Ben Stokes, sidelined from the Shakespearean Animals CC's second round match against the **** Fishers by minor hamstring strain, has been cleared to return to training by team physiotherapist Errol Alcott.
The injury healed better than expected, meaning the Durham-based all-rounder is eligible for selection in the Round 3 clash against Sneaky Soldiers CC. He will be hard pressed, however, to force his way back into the first XI immediately, given the impressive performance of his replacement, Usman Salahuddin. The Pakistani batsman made a composed 69 in his first innings, and would have to be considered unlucky if he were to be left out. Additionally, the impressive batting form of Faf du Plessis (complemented by his handy leg breaks) suggests Stokes bowling would be a non-factor in his selection.
But for all the positives surrounding the batting line-up of the Animals, question marks hover over the bowling attack. While Trent Boult has guaranteed his place with a 7 wicket haul in the first match and a continued ability to take early wickets, only Neil Wagner of the other bowlers can consider himself a lock for the third game. 36-year-old Shane Bond looked rusty in his outing, and Nathan Rimmington was solid but unconvincing in his first game. A recall may be in-store for young Marchant de Lange, despite poor results in the trial matches.
Johan Botha has also come under fire, his efforts with the ball being described by one fan as "unacceptably poor" and by **** Fishers captain MS Dhoni as "accurate, but unthreatening". However he has more than held his own with bat in hand, providing crucial lower order runs to help the Animals post strong totals. Coach Paul Adams had this to say about his countryman:
"We back Johan 110% to get the job done. Quite often he's been asked by Alastair Cook to bowl in a more containing role, holding up an end to allow Trent [Boult] and Neil [Wagner] to attack. He's been bowling a lot of overs and keeping things tight, and the wickets he's chipping in with have been at vital times."
He has come under fire from critics who have noted his inability to threaten despite massive footmarks provided by the side's two left-arm pacers. Adams continued:
"With two left-armers in our side we believe Johan is a better spinning option than George Dockrell at present. He has footmarks to operate out of and, believe it or not, he's probably getting too much turn to take the edge regularly. MS Dhoni, in particular, played him very well last game, waiting to watch the turn and playing him late, or meeting him at the pitch of the ball to nullify the bounce he was getting. It looked like nothing could threaten him. While George has huge amounts of potential, we think Johan's all-round package justifies his spot in the side at present"
When quizzed, Alastair Cook pledged his support for the embattled spinner, but also mentioned how well Dockrell was bowling in the nets. Despite the words of the coach and his batting form, Botha may not be assured of a start against Sneaky Soldiers yet.