Ben Stokes to make comeback from injury for Durham in Vitality Blast
Jofra Archer to see specialist about long-standing elbow problem
Ben Stokes is set to play for Durham at some stage during the Vitality T20 Blast after making "excellent progress" following the finger injury which has ruled him out of England's Test series against New Zealand. Stokes underwent surgery last month after he fractured his left index finger while taking a catch in Rajasthan Royals' opening game of the IPL season, an injury which the ECB initially suggested would rule him out for up to 12 weeks. He will be assessed again later this month, with a view to returning during the Blast. The competition's group stage runs from June 9 to July 16.
Chris Silverwood, England's head coach, said: "[He] is making excellent progress. If he continues to improve without any impact on his rehabilitation, we could see him return next month for Durham in the Vitality Blast competition.
"It'll be a slow return. We're potentially looking at the T20 Blast and then a gradual build back into international cricket for him. He has started bowling again and he's not far off hitting a few balls as well. He's progressing nicely and on course for where we expected him to be."
Stokes' return - and that of several other England regulars - would be a boost to the Blast's stature in the year that it becomes the country's secondary domestic short-form competition, behind the Hundred. Confirming that England's multi-format IPL players - Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes - would be rested for the New Zealand series following their 10-day hotel quarantine period, which ended last weekend, Silverwood said that all five could feature for their respective counties in the tournament.
"We felt it necessary for them to have an extended break [as] we need them to recharge mentally," he said. "We will then take a view when they return to cricket. It will mean that they will get some competitive matches with their respective counties either in the LV= Insurance County Championship or the Vitality Blast next month. We will work closely with each individual on when they are likely to play again."
Buttler, Stokes and Woakes have not played in the Blast since 2018, while Bairstow's last appearance for Yorkshire in the competition was in 2016. Eoin Morgan said in March that he expects to be without England's multi-format players throughout the white-ball series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan this summer, though circumstances may now allow some of them to be involved. Meanwhile, Jofra Archer will see a specialist this week as Silverwood looks to make sure his elbow problem is resolved "once and for all" ahead of England's busy winter - which includes the T20 World Cup and an away Ashes series - and the Test series against India this summer. Archer was ruled out of the New Zealand series on Sunday evening after struggling to get through Sussex's Championship fixture against Kent, which saw him bowl 18 overs across the first two days but none in the last two.
"We need to get this resolved once and for all to give him the best chance of being fully fit as we build up to an intense winter," Silverwood said. "We need him firing in all formats of the game.
"I feel for him: so far he's done everything we've asked of him to try and get into a good position to get back playing again. That hasn't worked, so we've just got to take the next step now: find out what the consultants will say. The best thing were can do is stay calm at this moment in time, support Jofra and make sure he gets all the help he needs to get him back.
"We all want Jofra fit and firing on the park, in all forms of cricket really and that's exactly what Jofra wants as well. The important thing here is actually we stay calm and we support Jofra in whatever he needs."
Dom Sibley, who broke his finger last month playing in the Championship for Warwickshire and was named in the squad for the New Zealand series, made a rain-interrupted comeback in second-team cricket on Tuesday, scoring 4 not out off 22 balls against Northamptonshire. He could make his first-team return away against Essex on Thursday, with the majority of the Test squad expected to feature in this week's round of Championship games.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98