The 31-year-old retired from one-day international cricket last summer, with the last of his 105 caps coming against South Africa at his home ground of Durham in July.
However, the possibility of a return to ODI cricket has been a live issue ever since Stokes led his country to the T20 World Cup in Australia last November, with the all-rounder’s unbeaten 52 sealing victory in the final against Pakistan in Melbourne.
Matthew Mott, England’s white-ball coach, started things off just hours after that T20 victory at the MCG when he admitted he would love Stokes to come back for the 50-over World Cup in India this autumn. “Absolutely,” said Mott. “I did say you could always unretire. It will be a decision that’s up to him.”
Mott has subsequently spoken about the possibility twice more, firstly before England’s ODI series in South Africa at the start of the year. “At the moment he’s non-committal,” he said.
Mott then appeared to give Stokes a deadline of midway through this coming summer to make a decision when speaking at the end of England’s tour of Bangladesh earlier this month.
“The issue about if he wants to play, we don’t need to know for a while,” said Mott. “Halfway through that summer, gauging how he is feeling physically and mentally that will be his call if he wants to put himself up for selection.”
But i understands Stokes, whose heroics in the 2019 final against New Zealand at Lord’s proved the difference, is now all but certain to pass up the opportunity to help defend that title later this year given the state of his left knee.
England’s Test captain shrugged off fears over that chronic injury following the final Test against New Zealand in Wellington last month – a match that saw him bowl just two overs and saw his efforts with the bat and in the field badly restricted.
Stokes and England coach Brendon McCullum had played down concerns that travelling to the IPL will jeopardise the captain’s chances of playing in the Ashes this summer.
Yet it has become evident he will be unlikely to be able to play a full part against Australia as a bowler and will at some stage require either surgery on the knee or a prolonged rest.
The only window for either of those options is following the Ashes at the end of July. Yet given the World Cup begins in October and Stokes would have to play some of England’s ODIs in September to put himself in contention, the chances of him returning are remote.
Indeed, his priority following the Ashes will be England’s five-Test series against India in India that starts next January, with Stokes knowing the five-month break following the Ashes would be perfect to get himself 100 per cent fit again.
There is no greater competitor in the game than Stokes and the possibility of helping England win another World Cup will be enticing.
But with the responsibility of captaincy, just patching himself up to get through a tournament and risking missing a potentially career-defining Test series in India early next year is not an option.
Stokes has not yet disclosed the exact nature of his injury, admitting after the Wellington Test he has had a diagnosis but adding: “I’ll keep it to myself.”
Even if he was somehow fit enough to return for the World Cup, it is understood that Stokes might be reluctant to go back on his ODI retirement if he felt he was taking the place of someone who was already established in the squad.
For now, it all adds up to England defending their World Cup title without the man who inspired them to victory four years ago.
And for England, the hope will be that their talisman can get through the IPL unscathed so he is ready for the Ashes.
Given Stokes picked up a serious finger injury in his last stint in the IPL in 2021, even that cannot be taken for granted just yet.