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Ben Stokes has raised hopes he will have recovered from a broken finger in time to travel to Australia for the Ashes after an optimistic Instagram post.
English fans were dismayed when Stoked announced he would be taking an indefinite break from cricket to spend time concentrating on his mental wellbeing.
In addition, Stokes was also nursing a badly fractured left index finger.
The 30-year-old posted a picture to his Instagram which showed him holding a cricket bat for the first time in what he said was the first time since April.
Stokes is not part of either the Ashes squad or the broader England squad selected to travel to Australia later this year.
He suffered the injury on Indian Premier League duty for Rajasthan Royals and, although he made tentative comeback appearances during the English summer - even answering an emergency SOS to captain in a coronavirus-threatened ODI series against Pakistan - he was still suffering major discomfort.
Now he has posted photos of the bandaged digit wrapped around a handle, with a caption suggesting it was the first time he has been able to do so since the initial break.
The message went on Instagram and Twitter, with Stokes adding "Ohhh aye lad" by way of comment.
The 30-year-old missed the India Test series at home, will not feature in the T20 World Cup later this month and was also considered unavailable for the Ashes squad which was announced on Sunday.
Head coach Chris Silverwood was keen to take a hands-off approach to Stokes' eventual return, but it is not impossible that England could allow him to join the Australia series as a late arrival, should he feel he is in the right physical and mental shape to do so.
Speaking at the squad announcement about Stokes, Silverwood said: "Ben is moving forward, the communications I have had with him he is definitely more upbeat.
"But what I will say is there will be no pressure from me for him to rush back. I've said 'when you're ready you call me and we'll make a plan from there'. So there's no pressure from me and no date on it.
"I'm not going to tell him when he comes back. I'll be led by him and my concern first and foremost is his wellbeing."
England opt for 'predictable' Ashes squad
The ongoing void left by Ben Stokes, concerns about spin and express-pace options, and a batting order with limited experience in Australia headline England's various Ashes selection headaches.
England have named their strongest possible 17-man squad for the five-Test series.
There were fears that Jos Buttler, installed as vice-captain in the absence of gun allrounder Stokes, would opt out but he and every other fit player made themselves available.
But Stokes is sidelined because of a broken finger and mental health reasons, while Jofra Archer (elbow) and Olly Stone (back) were also absent from the touring party.
Stokes boasts the ability to change the course of a Test with either bat or ball, as he demonstrated in unforgettable fashion at Headingley in 2019.
But the 30-year-old also makes it immeasurably easier for England to pick an XI, with former captains Nasser Hussain, Michael Atherton and Michael Vaughan all highlighting his absence as an obvious blow to England's bid to reclaim the urn.
"It gives England a massive selection headache," Hussain wrote in his Daily Mail column.
"It will be a nightmare trying to balance the side and I envisage England going into matches with an all-seam attack backed up by (Joe) Root's offspin.
"England have picked a very predictable Ashes squad, avoiding selecting any uncapped players and refusing to take any kind of risk."
Hussain and Vaughan questioned why Liam Livingstone, described by the former as an "in-your-face, confident cricketer in the mould of Kevin Pietersen and Ben Stokes" was overlooked.
Hussain also lamented the snubbing of fast bowler Saqib Mahmood and legspinner Matt Parkinson.
The recent retirement of allrounder Moeen Ali leaves finger spinners Bess and Jack Leach, who both haven't played for England since touring India in March, as England's only tweakers this summer.
Veteran pacemen Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad will return, bringing with them some 1156 Test wickets worth of experience but also memories of helping win the corresponding series in 2010-11.
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