England legend tells Ben Stokes to pull out of IPL and save himself for Ashes

Steve Harmison has urged England captain Ben Stokes to pull out of the upcoming Indian Premier League to save himself for this summer’s Ashes series.

Stokes’ persistent knee problem flared up during England’s dramatic one-run defeat to New Zealand in the second Test in Wellington, with the 31-year-old only bowling two overs in the match and hobbling in his second innings.

Speaking after the match, Stokes admitted he was being ‘held back’ by the reoccurring problem but said he would still play in the IPL, which starts on March 31

‘We’ve got three, four months before we get to the Ashes,’ said Stokes, who was signed by Chennai Super Kings for IPL 2023 for £1.6m.

‘We’re working incredibly hard with our physios and medics to get everything strength-wise around it. But it’s very difficult, out here especially, to get those things in because once the Tests start they come thick and fast.

‘It’s a good opportunity out in India now to get myself in a position where I don’t have to worry about my knee any more.

‘I’m not going to lie – it is very frustrating knowing that I’ve got something holding me back in terms of my body.

‘But I’ll be doing everything I possibly can to allow me to fulfil that fourth-seamer role like I was able to two or three years ago. Hopefully come the Ashes, I won’t have to worry about it.’

Former England bowler Harmison expected Stokes to play through the pain in the IPL and Ashes before ‘fixing’ his knee later in the year, but says that now looks ‘impossible’.

Instead, the 2005 Ashes hero believes England’s management team need to have a ‘big and honest conversation’ with Stokes about skipping the IPL to ensure he is fit and firing for the Ashes.

‘This guy has got a really high pain threshold,’ Harmison told talkSPORT. ‘Too high, that is probably the problem.

‘But this injury is restricting his movement, big time. We were watching it and seeing the demise of it during his second innings.

‘I think there needs to be some brave decisions made because Ben Stokes is so important, so crucial, to England’s chances of winning the Ashes.

‘I thought he might have gone to the IPL, played in the Ashes this summer and then fixed his knee. But looking at this, I think that’s impossible now.

‘I think the medical team, Rob Key, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes need to have a big and honest conversation.

‘How do we get him fit for the Ashes? Forgot any other cricket, because the Ashes is the important thing at this moment in time.’

England will attempt to win back the Ashes for the first time since 2015 when they host Australia in a five-match Test series this summer.

Since Stokes was appointed captain in April last year, England have won 10 out of 12 Tests, beating New Zealand by 267 runs in the series opener before suffering an agonising one-run defeat in Wellington.

England coach McCullum was disappointed his team failed to get over the line against his home nation but was happy to be part of another exciting spectacle.

‘Obviously it would’ve been nice to have won the Test match and the series but right at the start of this campaign we said that we wanted to entertain and bring fans into the game, bring relevance to Test cricket,’ he said.

‘Even being on the wrong side of it today, I think we achieved that. Credit to New Zealand, they were epic in their defence of that total but we certainly played our part. It was a great game to be a part of.’

Before the Ashes gets underway on June 16 at Edgbaston, England face Ireland in a one-off Test match at Lord’s. The white-ball squad, meanwhile, begin a series in Bangladesh on Wednesday.

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