Just when he was making a serious bid for inclusion in the England one-day squad, Durham’s Ben Stokes has been ruled out for six to eight weeks.
The powerful all-rounder, 20 on June 4, suffered a nasty finger injury on the same day he became only the second batsman to clear the Don Robson Pavilion at the Emirates Durham ICG.
Kevin Pietersen achieved the feat when playing for Nottinghamshire in a Sunday League match in 2003, but Stokes did it twice in his career-best innings of 185 against Lancashire off the bowling of Steven Croft.
During his innings Stokes broke the Durham record for any partnership in the County Championship when he put on 331 with Dale Benkenstein, but his ecstasy turned to agony when he tried to catch a fierce cut from Paul Horton.
He immediately rushed from the field in obvious pain and although there was some relief when it was announced that he had dislocated his right index finger it kept slipping back out and had to be pinned. There was also some ligament damage and he will miss the entire Twenty20 Cup, in which Durham planned to bat him at No 3.
Stokes has scored 609 Championship runs this season at an average of 55.36 with three centuries. He has also taken 17 wickets at 33 with his brisk seam bowling and became the first player to score 150 in a one-day match for Durham at Edgbaston.
The strapping Stokes also made two centuries last season and records suggest that the only other English batsman to have scored five first-class hundreds before his 20th birthday was Denis Compton.
There is no doubt that the England hierarchy had him under consideration for this summer’s one-day series against Sri Lanka and India. One of the selectors, James Whitaker, witnessed his innings against Lancashire and could scarcely believe the power of Stokes’s back-foot shots through the covers.
Durham coach Geoff Cook said: “We have had a lot of conversations recently with the England selectors and coach about both Ben and Graham Onions.
“It’s a very sad blow for Ben because he had some real momentum. He has shown a fantastic improvement in the last month, particularly in his mental approach. It’s no coincidence that as his bowling improved so did his batting because it helped his confidence in making contributions.
“He’s young enough to get over it quickly and I’m sure he’ll pick up where he left off because he has such natural talent. But it would have been interesting to watch him in the Twenty20.”
The blow was cushioned by the return of Paul Collingwood following his knee operation. He was always going to play in the Friends Life t20 tournament but the door is now also open for him to step into Stokes’s No 4 slot in the four-day line-up when Durham return to Championship action at home to struggling Yorkshire on June 18.
Steve Harmison, meanwhile, should have recovered by then from the back injury which kept him out against Lancashire.