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

Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope

South Africa v England, first Test
Venue: SuperSport Park, Centurion Dates: 26-30 December Start time: 08:00 GMT
Coverage: Live text commentary and The Cricket Social on the BBC Sport website

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.

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.

Anderson set for milestone 150th Test

James Anderson

England pace spearhead James Anderson, 37, will hope to be setting a new landmark if selected – as it will be his 150th Test, and his first competitive appearance after limping out of the Ashes with a calf injury after bowling only four overs in the first Test at the start of August,

“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve got the frame that I’ve got – my body’s been very durable throughout my career, my action’s very repeatable and it doesn’t take a lot out of me,” he told BBC Sport.

“It would be a proud moment if I play, I don’t think there are any fast bowlers who have played 150 Tests. I’ve worked hard to get here.”

Meanwhile, Broad, who has been Anderson’s regular new-ball partner for most of his international career, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Following his mate Alastair Cook and getting that 150th cap shows dedication.

“For him to have come back stronger after his calf injury in the summer and missing out on most of the Ashes, is a credit to him and shows the sort of desire you need at the top level.”

‘Mature’ Van der Dussen set for Test bow

Rassie van der Dussen

At the opposite end of the scale in terms of Test experience is South Africa batsman Rassie van der Dussen – at 30, only seven years Anderson’s junior, but who will be making his Test debut at Centurion.

Captain Faf du Plessis confirmed that right-hander Van der Dussen, who has appeared in 18 one-day internationals and nine Twenty20 internationals in the past 14 months, would bat at number five after Temba Bavuma was ruled out with a hip injury.

“He was a mature cricketer when he started for us in ODIs and is someone who knows his game very well‚” Du Plessis said.

“He came into international cricket looking very comfortable and has scored a lot of runs in white-ball cricket.

“He is calm and composed with the bat. You can just see it sometimes when someone is suited for international cricket and that’s been the case with him. I think he will be very much at home.”

Meanwhile, Du Plessis feels the addition of several Proteas legends to the backroom staff can lift the team after a troubled time on and off the field which has included the suspension of chief executive Thabang Moroe, the departure of long-term sponsors and a run of five successive Test defeats.

Former skipper Graeme Smith, the acting director of cricket, has brought in former Test wicketkeeper Mark Boucher as head coach and legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis as batting consultant.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air to have the guys back. There’s a real positive feel to what we’ve been doing and a real energy,” added Du Plessis.

“The last six months has felt like there’s been a bit more weight on my shoulders. I could see so many things happening off the field that were not the right structures.

“You kind of sit back and go ‘why have these guys not been here for the last few years?’. Look at Australia as an example, you play them and there’s Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh… it makes you sit back and say ‘we want that’.”

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