Ben Stokes returns to nets before Ashes

Ben Stokes says he's enjoyed a first hit in the nets since taking an indefinite break from cricket.
Ben Stokes says he's enjoyed a first hit in the nets since taking an indefinite break from cricket.

Ben Stokes has fuelled speculation he could return to play some part in the Ashes, returning to the nets for the first time since taking an indefinite break from cricket.

Stokes was considered not available for England's Ashes squad when it was named on Sunday night, as he continues to focus on his mental health.

The star English all-rounder has not played since fracturing his finger in the Indian Premier League in April, which required immediate surgery and another one earlier this month.

Stokes posted an image of himself gripping a bat properly for the first time in six months on Monday, and is said to be in better spirits.

He then shared another video of him hitting underarm throw-downs from England physiotherapist Craig De Weymarn on Thursday.

"Great to be back hitting balls," Stokes said.

The videos have caught the eyes of several back in Australia, including captain Tim Paine.

"I'm not too upset to see him not named in that squad," Paine quipped on SEN.

"I know people are talking, the rumour mill is running that he could join which would be great for the series.

"In a normal Ashes series, if he was fit halfway through you'd bring him out. There's no doubt about that.

"But again, with the COVID restrictions and how hard we know it is to get into our country ... I think that'll be a challenge.

"But if he does and he comes over it'll be awesome for the series. He's an entertainer."

Stokes' chances of entering Australia could be made easier after the NSW Government on Friday revealed a plan to allow double-dosed internationals to avoid hotel quarantine with a negative test.

What impact that has on other state borders, and Cricket Australia's hope to play the final Test in Perth just days after the fourth Test in Sydney, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile England have stressed repeatedly they will not pressure Stokes into a return, with head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root taking a hands-off approach.

England and Wales Cricket Board's performance director Mo Bobat echoed those sentiments on Thursday.

"It's hugely positive and hugely exciting," said Bobat, as quoted by PA.

"Certainly it looks like the extra medical stuff that has happened and the removal of scar tissue and everything else he had done has freed up his finger and it's given him that feeling of confidence again back into his fingers.

"Ultimately given what he's experienced and where he's been, it's important that he and we move at the right pace for him. There's certainly no pressure or expectation from us."

Stokes last played in an Ashes series in Australia in 2013-14 after missing the most recent one (2017-18) for off-field reasons, but he did star in the 2019 series in England.

Australian Associated Press