PRETORIA: Ben Stokes returned to practice with England yesterday after the condition of his critically ill father improved, but three others missed out as illness continue to plague the tourists, 24 hours ahead of the first Test against South Africa at Centurion.
Stokes spent Tuesday at the bedside of father Ged, who was hospitalised the day before due to a “serious illness”.
“He remains in intensive care, but has responded positively to treatment and is now in a stable condition,” the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said in a statement.
“The Stokes family wishes to thank everyone for their support and in particular the medical practitioners in South Africa for their care of Ged.”
Christmas morning practice went ahead, however, without Jack Leach, Ollie Pope and Chris Woakes, who are battling the flu bug that has hampered the tourists since their arrival in South Africa 11 days ago.
But an ECB spokesman said none of the trio had been ruled out of the first Test of the four-match series with South Africa, which starts in Centurion near Pretoria today.
But it will certainly delay England’s team selection for the opening Test.
This spells good news for Sam Curran or Craig Overton.
Pope was pencilled in at number six and made a fine hundred against South Africa ‘A’ but will now need to convince the medical staff of his readiness.
Should England decide he cannot be risked then it would open up a place for Jonny Bairstow, who was recalled to the squad after being left out of the recent trip to New Zealand.
Jack Leach is also struggling having failed to shake off the illness, but England were already erring towards going into the game without a specialist spinner.
After training finished the England squad headed back to their Johannesburg hotel to share a Christmas lunch with their family members and take part in a ‘secret Santa’ exchange of gifts.
The flu bug hit England particularly hard soon after their arrival with pacemen Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad missing the two warm-up games and now racing to be fit to play today.
“It’s quite frustrating,” England skipper Joe Root said on Tuesday. “We have to handle it. We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll make a very late call on our side.”
Meanwhile, the expectations of England cricket fans will be high as James Anderson is set to make a comeback in the first Test. The 37-year-old will enter the ground for the first time after getting injured during the recently held Ashes.
Proteas, on the other hand, will be thrilled as they will be playing under the new team management that includes former South African stars like Mark Boucher (head coach) and Jacques Kallis (batting consultant). Former spinner Phil Jacques has also joined the management as a spin consultant.