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April 30, 2012
Ben Stokes, the Durham allrounder, is to undergo a scan on a back injury that currently prevents him from bowling. Stokes, who was named in the England Lions squad to take on West Indies next month, suffered discomfort during Durham's drawn Championship match against Middlesex at Lord's but is hoping it will not prove to be a significant problem as he seeks to press his case for an international recall.
Stokes appeared in five ODIs and two T20 internationals for England last year, though he struggled to make an impact and subsequently underwent surgery on a finger injury that prevented him from playing cricket over the winter. Although he was called up on the strength of his batting alone, Stokes has put extra work into his bowling and already has 11 first-class wickets at 16.72 from three matches this season, albeit five came in the rout of Durham's university students. The 20-year-old would not have bowled against Surrey last week - and in the end he did not get a chance to bat either, as The Oval suffered its first complete abandonment since 2007 due to persistent heavy rainfall.
"It's not quite ready for bowling at the moment," Stokes said. "We're just taking a few precautions with that. I've got a scan coming up so hopefully that will tell us more. If it stops me from bowling that is going to be a setback. I had a couple of stress reactions in my back when I was younger but this doesn't feel similar so hopefully it's not that bad.
"I always work on both bowling and batting, as hard as each other. At the moment, there's a lot of work going into my bowling because there's a lot of improvement needed. So if this back injury does prevent me from bowling it will be give a chance to work on batting."
Already marked out as one of the most talented young players on the circuit, Stokes has a chance to make a statement with the bat, at least, when the Lions take on West Indies in less than two weeks' time. He has not set any targets for the season, other than making runs and taking wickets, but with the make-up of England's top order far from certain, Stokes could potentially play himself into Andy Flower's plans with a big innings.
If he remains on the Test fringes - with Ravi Bopara expected to bat at No. 6 against West Indies and Nick Compton stockpiling hard-won early season runs - Stokes has realistic hopes of a return to England's limited-overs sides. "It's fantastic to be involved again with the Lions, especially after a frustrating winter," Stokes said. "Hopefully I can put in a good performance on the pitch when it comes to the game."
For the second week running, Durham were frustrated by the London weather, with not a ball bowled against Surrey. Indoor nets and watching the IPL on TV were as close as the players got to cricket as both clubs lost ground on Division One leaders, Warwickshire. Durham's next match is at Edgbaston, beginning on Thursday, with Stokes seeking to build on a modest return of 90 runs from four Championship innings so far this season ahead of the Lions fixture.
"It is tough sitting and watching the rain come down, especially at the start of the season because every team wants to get off to a good start and it's pretty disappointing that the weather's holding us back," Stokes said. "Batting out in the middle is a lot different to batting in the nets. It is a bit frustrating not getting any game time but you've got to find a way to get in as much practice as you can."
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