One game into the 2021 season and things are already looking bleak for the Rajasthan Royals. Not only are they without first-choice fast bowler Jofra Archer for at least the first four games of the season, but they are also now going to be without one of the world’s best T20 players in the form of Ben Stokes.
2021 was already looking like a tough season for the Royals. Betway already had the Royals as the favourites for the wooden spoon at 21.00, and now this injury to Ben Stokes suffered during the opening game of the season against the Punjab Kings, puts further pressure on the Royals.
No luck for the Royals
After finishing the 2020 season at the bottom of the table, the Royals must have come into the 2021 season with renewed hope, with Archer and Stokes two of the leading lights in international T20 cricket.
With Archer already out for the opening four games, recuperating from an old injury, a lot of hope was placed on the shoulders of Stokes.
After starting the game well, Stokes had bowled the eighth over of the Kings’ innings and was expected to come back to bowl at the death, however, an injury sustained in the tenth over meant he was not seen again with the ball as the Kings amassed 221 for 6 in their 20 overs.
He did come out to open the batting for the Royals, however, he only lasted three balls before top-edging a pull back to bowler Mohanned Shami to be out for a duck. It was unclear whether the injury was providing significant hindrance to Stokes, however, his early dismissal meant that it would not be put to the test.
The injury to Stokes, a broken finger on his left hand, was inflicted whilst taking a superb catch, running in from the boundary to catch Kings’ talisman Chris Gayle – a crucial wicket for the Royals with Gayle making 40 runs off just 28 deliveries.
Talisman Stokes to stay on
It’s no secret that Stokes loves to play in the IPL and he has been one of the shining stars since its inception. It is perhaps no surprise then, that he has elected to stay on with the Royals for the rest of the season to provide “support and inputs off the field’ as he looks to stay involved in the IPL 2021 season.
In the same week as Stokes suffered his injury, he was also named Wisden’s leading cricketer in the world for the second year in a row. He scored more Test runs than any other batsman in 2020, with 641 in seven matches, while also taking 19 wickets.
Whilst his presence in the changing room has been welcomed by the Royals and their owners, there is no doubt they would much rather see the world’s best cricketer out on the field as they try to avoid the wooden spoon for the second consecutive year.
What now for the Royals?
Without either Stokes or Archer, the overseas options for the Royals are limited. Both Jos Buttler and Chris Morris are first-choice picks, and for the other two slots, they have to choose from among Liam Livingstone, David Miller, Mustafizur Rahman and Andrew Tye. Rahman played in the first match and Livingstone – who can bat in the top order and turn his arm over for part-time off-spin – could be the most likely to fill in for Stokes.
Will Stokes be fit for England?
This summer is a huge one for England. They are scheduled to play a two-Test series against New Zealand, starting at Lord’s on June 2, just four days after the IPL final. Following the two-Test series with New Zealand, England is then due to face India in a five-Test series before heading to the T20 World Cup in India. They then head down under to Australia for the Ashes at the end of 2021.
It is understood that the ECB is working with the Royals to monitor Stokes’ fitness between now and the opening Test against New Zealand, however, it is unclear at this stage whether he will be fit to line up in that series or whether he will have to wait until the Test series against India before he will be able to represent the Three Lions in 2021.