Ben Stokes unable to bowl in training on eve of England's opening Test against New Zealand

Chris Stocks
Whole new ball game: Mark Wood and Ben Stokes as they take part in a football match before training on Wednesday: Getty Images

Ben Stokes was unable to bowl on Wednesday on the eve of England’s First Test against New Zealand at Eden Park, leaving James Vince in danger of being dropped.

Stokes, who sustained a back injury during the recent ODIs here, had got through two five-over spells without any apparent trouble in the previous two days, raising hopes the all-rounder would be able to play a full part when the two-match series starts later on Wednesday.

However, with rain forcing England’s practice indoors on Wednesday, Stokes did not bowl despite doing so in the indoor nets on Monday. Just as Tuesday, Stokes looked in a little discomfort as he took part in the England team’s football match before training but there is a big difference between a kickabout and bowling at full pace in a Test match.

England captain Joe Root was unusually guarded when speaking before his side’s practice session on Wednesday, refusing to name his team and, when asked if Stokes would be able to bowl, only saying: “There’s still stuff that needs to come out of today to be very sure of that. But I’m quite happy that Ben will play a part in the game.”

If Stokes, who has not played Test cricket for six months after he was suspended for the Ashes, was picked just as a specialist batsman on his return, then No3 Vince would likely be dropped and an extra bowler, almost certainly Craig Overton, picked instead.

Vince averages 22.70 from 12 Tests and had an unconvincing Ashes after scoring 83 in the series opener in Brisbane. If he were to make way, that would force England to promote Dawid Malan up to three, with Stokes moved to five.

Regardless of the make-up of the team, Root has urged England to learn from their 4-0 Ashes defeat in this two-match series against New Zealand.

“There have been periods when we’ve been off for 30 minutes, 20 minutes and it’s cost us,” said England’s captain.

“When we’re in any position of strength, being ruthless and driving home the importance of staying on top and making it really count is something I want us as a team to get better at.

“We did compete for large periods of all five of those Test matches and we were significantly worse than Australia for short amounts of time, which really cost us. Fair play to them, when they got on top they made it very hard for us to get back in the game and that’s where we want to be. We want to do that away from home.”

Waiting game: Stokes in training this week (Getty Images)

England have won just one away series since 2012 – in South Africa in the winter of 2015-16. That sole success means they are likely to shake up their bowling plans, with Chris Woakes set to take the new ball ahead of Stuart Broad here.

The fact this series comprises just two Tests and the first match is a day-night encounter makes it more unpredictable. England have played only two pink-ball Tests, beating West Indies at Edgbaston in August and losing against Australia on the final day at Adelaide in December.

Root said: “As a bowling group you do feel there’s a little a bit there for you and things start to happen a little bit quicker in that twilight period.

“On one occasion we managed to make the best of it at Edgbaston and in Australia we didn’t quite manage to do that. For having experienced both sides of it, I think we’re a better side.”

New Zealand, meanwhile, have confirmed that key batsman Ross Taylor is fit for this First Test after recovering from a thigh injury he sustained during the one-day series against England.

Taylor will take his place at No4 in the batting order, while captain Kane Williamson said spinner Todd Astle will play as he named his XI.