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Ben Stokes a fitness doubt for England’s third Test against New Zealand

Ben Stokes a fitness doubt for England’s third Test against New Zealand

  • Trent Bridge centurion Jonny Bairstow could step up
  • Kiwis looking to restore ‘pride’ having lost series

Ben Stokes must prove his fitness before the third Test against New Zealand, which starts on Thursday, after the England captain missed the first day of training at Headingley through illness.

Stokes, who is yet to name an official Test vice-captain since taking over from Joe Root this summer, was absent from nets on Tuesday after returning from a weekend visit to his old cricket club, Cockermouth, and reporting a chesty cough.

A team spokesperson confirmed a rapid Covid-19 test on Tuesday morning returned a negative result and, as such, England are hopeful Stokes will be able to shake off the bug and lead out the side as they look to start his reign with a 3-0 series victory.

In the event Stokes does miss out, the question of his deputy will be answered. Root is clearly the most qualified, having captained England a record 64 times before stepping down in April, while Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow are alternative candidates. Jimmy Anderson, another senior player, may well be rested.

No Stokes would also present a chance for Yorkshire’s in-form Harry Brook to make a Test debut at his home ground, even if this would mean the loss of an all-rounder in the team and raise the prospect of England leaving out Jack Leach for an all-seam attack. That said, a flat white pitch suggests a spinner will be required.

While England have taken a relaxed approach to Covid-19 this summer, given all requirements to isolate have long since been lifted by the UK government, New Zealand have been more stringent and four players have tested positive on tour.

Among them is Kane Williamson, who missed the dramatic five-wicket defeat at Trent Bridge but is expected to return. Michael Bracewell and Devon Conway are also expected to be fit, having tested positive the day after the match.

Asked about Williamson at training, the seamer Trent Boult replied: “He’s a big player for us, his record speaks for itself. He’s hungry to get out there to lead the side and desperate to get some runs. I know the boys are looking forward to the challenge. It’s hard being 2-0 down but there’s a lot of pride in that changing room.”

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