Ben Stokes will this week fly to New Zealand to be with his unwell father, missing the rest of the Test series against Pakistan.
It was announced on Sunday by the England & Wales Cricket Board that Stokes is returning to New Zealand for personal reasons. His father, Ged, was taken seriously ill in South Africa at Christmas.
Stokes told his England team-mates after their comeback win on Saturday night that he will be flying home this week to be with his father and support the rest of his family.
It is unclear when Stokes will return and he could have played his last game for England of the 2020 summer, with the second Test against Pakistan starting on Thursday.
Ged Stokes urged Ben to play on in South Africa when he was taken ill just before the Boxing Day Test in Pretoria. He spent five weeks in hospital in Johannesburg having three operations. Ben was given permission to miss the one-day matches in order to help his mother, Deborah, prepare to take his father back to New Zealand. “Thirty-seven days in hospital, three surgeries and he's finally on his way home. I am so proud to be your son. And as for you mam, behind every man is a stronger woman - you are incredible,” Stokes wrote on social media when Ged was well enough to fly home.
He said his father leaving hospital was better than winning the series in South Africa. "I spoke to Dad before the first Test and told him I'm playing the game, and he looked at me with the most stupid face and said, 'obviously you are'. After losing a Test it can feel like the worst thing ever but there are a lot more important things to happen."
Stokes now dedicates his Test hundreds to his father by making a gesture with his hand. When he reached three figures in the second Test against West Indies two weeks ago he folded the middle finger on his right hand. Ged Stokes had part of that finger amputated in order to continue playing rugby.
Stokes plays for England because his father moved to the North East from New Zealand when his son was 12 years old, after landing a job coaching Workington. The family moved to Cockermouth in Cumbria where Ben joined the local cricket club. A year after moving to England, Stokes was playing for Cumbria under-13s and on his way to stardom.
Ged is renowned as a hard man of sport. Stokes told Telegraph Sport in 2016 that Ged used to tell his children his finger had been bitten off by a crocodile. In fact, he badly dislocated the joint playing rugby and was told by doctors he faced a lengthy period out of the game. He could not afford to miss out on match fees, so told his doctor to amputate it.
The Stokes family often travel around the world to watch Ben play and were a rock of support during his court case two years ago. He flew to Christchurch and stayed with his parents to escape the media attention while waiting to hear if he would face charges for his involvement in a Bristol streetfight while on England duty. While living with his parents, he played for Canterbury to get some match practice when he was not selected for the last Ashes tour due to his impending trial.
Stokes dropped a slip catch off Anderson on Friday, a sign that this usually sharp fielder had his mind elsewhere. He was not expected to bowl in the first Test but came on to help change the course of the match when he bowled four overs in Pakistan’s second innings on Friday evening, taking two wickets. Stokes was able to put his thigh injury to the test knowing that he was about to go to New Zealand and miss the rest of the series.
The ECB are now looking into whether Stokes will have to self-isolate in New Zealand upon arrival. At the moment visitors must spend 14 days in a ‘managed isolation facility’ before they can go into the community and visit relatives.
When he returns to England, Stokes would have to isolate for another 14 days before rejoining the biobubble making it unlikely he will play again this summer. The second Test against Pakistan in Southampton starts on Thursday, with the final Test beginning the following week on Aug 21.
England are due to play three T20s against Pakistan (Aug 28-Sept 1) and then three T20s and three ODIs with Australia (likely to be Sept 4-16).
In Stokes’s absence, England are likely to recall Zak Crawley to bat at four and possibly bring in Sam Curran, to lengthen the batting, for James Anderson, who looks in need of a rest.
Ollie Robinson, the uncapped Sussex bowler, was added to the squad on Saturday as cover for Mark Wood, who is carrying a slight injury.