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Stokes steps up bowling workload but will continue as specialist batter

Test captain eyes return to allrounder status in time for England's T20 World Cup defence

Ben Stokes bowled for 20 minutes at Rajkot on the eve of the third Test, England training, Rajkot, February 14, 2024

Ben Stokes bowled for 20 minutes at Rajkot on the eve of the third Test  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Ben Stokes continued his return to operating as a fully functioning allrounder on Wednesday with a 20-minute bowling session in Rajkot, but will not bowl in England's remaining three Tests in India.
The England captain has been stepping up his bowling on this tour after an operation on his left knee at the end of November. Following a first walkthrough in the build-up to the second Test in Visakhapatnam, he has been gradually increasing his bowling, sending down three overs on Tuesday at about "70 percent" before a similar stint on Wednesday, a day out from the third Test.
Stokes has reiterated he will not be bowling in this series. But the progress, even at this early stage, suggests he is on course to play as an allrounder in the upcoming T20 World Cup, which takes place in the Caribbean and the United States in June.
"No, I still won't bowl in this series," Stokes said. "I've pinky-promised my physio I won't be loosening up to bowl even if everything is feeling well because that would just be a risk that's not worth it.
"It's good. Little and often now. I managed to step it up from when I bowled around the last Test match... just growing with more confidence."
Stokes last bowled competitively in the second Ashes Test at Lord's in June 2023. Such was the state of his left knee that his participation in the 50-over World Cup was in major doubt until he finally brought himself out of ODI retirement in August.
The return of the 2019 hero did not lend itself to a successful world title defence, with England knocked out at the group stages. One of the many issues to emerge from a dismal campaign was the lack of balance in the XI, not helped by Stokes only being able to operate as a batter.
Stokes will want to make amends by defending the T20 World Cup after helping England over the line in 2022. The tournament is part of a bumper 2024 for Stokes, which will also see him lead England in home Test series against West Indies and Sri Lanka before tours of Pakistan and New Zealand before the year is out.
Stokes has already pulled out of the IPL, having played for Chennai Super Kings last year, with a view to managing his workload. For now, he is happy with his physical progression, particularly as the rest of his body gets reaccustomed to the rigours of fast bowling.
"We don't have a plan with where I go with my intensity," Stokes said. "It's just how I feel at the time, but also not getting too far ahead. I've said a couple of times that the rest of my body has to get up to speed with bowling. It was another step forward."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo