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Ben Stokes: England star in training for Boxing Day Test v South Africa but illness hits tourists’ camp


Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope

While Ben Stokes rejoined training on Christmas Day, Ollie Pope is the latest player to be suffering with illness

Ben Stokes has returned to full training with England as they prepare for the Boxing Day Test against South Africa at Centurion, after his father showed signs of improvement.

All-rounder Stokes missed training on Christmas Eve after his father Ged, 64, was taken to hospital in Johannesburg.

He remains in intensive care, but has responded to treatment and is stable.

However, illness continues to affect the England camp, with batsman Ollie Pope the latest to be afflicted.

Pope missed practice on Christmas Day along with all-rounder Chris Woakes and spinner Jack Leach, two of the earlier victims of the illness outbreak in the squad.

Although none of the trio has been formally ruled out of the first of the four Tests against the Proteas, they are major doubts – with England’s team selection severely hampered as a result.

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The potential loss of Pope is a blow after the Surrey right-hander, who deputised as wicketkeeper during the second Test in New Zealand when Jos Buttler was ruled out with a back injury, scored a century in England’s final warm-up game against South Africa A in Benoni.

Assuming Buttler reclaims the gloves, and that vice-captain Stokes is available to play, Pope’s absence could mean a recall for Jonny Bairstow as a specialist batsman, or another chance for Zak Crawley who debuted against the Kiwis in Hamilton.

The tourists must also decide the make-up of their bowling attack – illness doubts notwithstanding – after omitting Leach in Hamilton to field an all-seam attack. Pace duo Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad had also missed some training because of illness, but returned on Christmas Eve.

With Stokes’ father still seriously ill, England will therefore delay naming their team until the morning of the match.

A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) read: “The Stokes family wishes to thank everyone for their support and in particular the medical practitioners in South Africa for their care of Ged. The ECB continues to request that the media and public respect Ben and his family’s privacy at this time.”

England (from): Burns, Sibley, Denly, Root (capt), Stokes, Pope, Buttler (wk), Bairstow, Crawley, Woakes, S Curran, Archer, Leach, Broad, Anderson, Wood, Parkinson, Overton, Bess.

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