Ben Stokes is in a race to be fit for the final Test against New Zealand after feeling unwell and missing training two days out.
Stokes was due to join up with the squad and train at Headingley but has been suffering with a chesty cough over the past couple of days and decided to give the session a swerve. The skipper returned a negative lateral flow test on Tuesday morning to rule out Covid at this stage, although without taking the more sensitive PCR test England medics will be monitoring his symptoms to see if they persist or develop ahead of the match.
After Kane Williamson was ruled out of the 2nd Test with Covid, Stokes joked about how to avoid a positive result – by not testing. It was said in jest, but six members of the Blackcaps touring party have gone down with Covid during the tour so far, and with the latest variant spiking around the country it is entirely reasonable to expect it to hit the England dressing room at some point.
Players and support staff are expected to isolate and provide two negative tests before returning to the side if they have symptoms and test positive. Both Stokes and the England management are confident he will be fit and available to train on Wednesday and take part in the match on Thursday, but it brings into sharp focus what they will do if he doesn’t make it.
No vice-captain has been announced officially, but privately plans are in place for a replacement skipper should he be required for a one off Test. Joe Root would be a candidate to step back into the breach on his home ground in an emergency but so too would Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow as senior players in the squad.
Jimmy Anderson has been an England vice-captain before on the 2017/18 Ashes tour, but he may not feature in the game this week as England look to get him ready and in peak condition for the India Test that follows a week on Friday.