Brendon McCullum insists he has ‘no concerns’ with Ben Stokes playing in the IPL ahead of The Ashes

Brendon McCullum insists he has ‘no concerns’ about Ben Stokes playing in the IPL despite struggling with an ongoing knee problem in New Zealand… as he backs the England Test captain to return from India with the ‘bit between his teeth’ for The Ashes

  • Ben Stokes was clearly hampered by a knee problem in New Zealand
  • Despite this, he is still planning to play in the IPL and will try to manage the issue
  • Brendon McCullum is happy for him to play ahead of this summer’s Ashes 

Brendon McCullum had a particular topic he was keen to raise when he played golf yesterday with an old team-mate as he began to look beyond one of the greatest Tests.

The England coach was heading to a Wellington course to meet up with his first New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming where the delicate subject of the state of Ben Stokes left knee was certain to feature in their conversation between holes.

Fleming is now coach of Chennai Super Kings of the Indian Premier League where Stokes will head later this month to fulfil his £1.6million contract even though he was effectively operating on one leg towards the end of the epic second Test.

‘I’ve got a tee-time with him so I’ll be making sure he looks after the skipper,’ said McCullum about Fleming, who was leading New Zealand when McCullum made his Test debut against South Africa in 2004. ‘Chennai have a very good set-up and they have an outstanding leader in Flem. He sees the big picture in everything so I’ve no concerns.’

McCullum was relaxed, as he always is, but English worry is understandable. Not only did the chronic condition stop Stokes bowling all but two overs in a Test won by a single run by New Zealand but it was clearly affecting his batting on the last day too.

Ben Stokes was troubled by a knee problem throughout the second Test in New Zealand

Stokes is planning to play in the IPL, and Brendon McCullum is happy for him to do so

Stokes is planning to play in the IPL, and Brendon McCullum is happy for him to do so

McCullum is confident Stokes will be ready to play a significant role in The Ashes

McCullum is confident Stokes will be ready to play a significant role in The Ashes

Stokes is adamant he is heading to India and will manage the problem rather than rest or seek an operation but his participation in the IPL could be said to be risking his chances of leading the England side he has transformed in the biggest series of them all.

‘I don’t think he’s jeopardising the Ashes,’ insisted McCullum. ‘The skipper has a strong mind and he knows how to get right for the big moments.

‘In fact I look forward to watching him play for Chennai and see him play cricket without the captaincy and having to worry about everyone else.

‘We know when he comes back to us he’ll have that bit between his teeth. I also believe the Ashes is the script the skipper is waiting to write.’

Stokes and McCullum have been writing a script full of drama and plot twists ever since they came together at the start of last summer and the remarkable end to their first winter was the cue for the coach to start looking ahead to his next and biggest challenge.

England have been keen to live in the moment up to now but clearly now all thoughts and planning are geared towards one side – Australia and this summer’s Ashes.

‘Now we can get excited about it,’ said McCullum. ‘We have the opportunity to really start to plot and turn our attention to what’s going to be a pretty amazing time in the guys lives – an Ashes series at home against a good Australian side.’

He will plan with confidence gained from a remarkable transformation that has seen England win 10 of their last 12 Tests and which has been unaffected by that extraordinary finale at the Basin Reserve on Tuesday.

‘This team has grown over the last eight or nine months,’ said McCullum. ‘I think the players have become more at ease with how we’re playing and it’s become more authentic. Our style certainly does give us the best chance of being able to topple a good Australian side. We know it won’t be easy but with eight or nine months development of that style under our belts we should be hard to beat. Bring it on!’

Almost as big a topic as Stokes knee for England is how they will fit Jonny Bairstow back into the side when he has fully recovered from the injuries suffered in that freak accident on another golf course.

Zak Crawley struggled for runs in New Zealand but McCullum is still backing the opener

Zak Crawley struggled for runs in New Zealand but McCullum is still backing the opener

McCullum has said that Bairstow will ‘walk back into the side’ when he is fit, which is expected to be soon, but that appeared to have slightly changed yesterday when he said ‘we will have to see who is fit and we won’t crowbar anyone into the team’.

Intriguingly, McCullum could not have been more positive about the chances of Zak Crawley carrying on as opener even though the end appeared to have come here for a batsman who averages just 27 from 33 Tests.

‘Yes of course he does,’ said McCullum when asked if Crawley still had his full support. ‘Zak is going to be inconsistent because of the role he is asked to perform. That is to impose himself on the opposition and try to put them under pressure.

‘Zak needs to become more at ease with that role and not try to catch form. I know from my conversations with Ricky Ponting that the Australians respect Zak for the instinct and power he has at the top of the order and how destructive he can be. He is still a big player for us moving forward.’

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