Ben Stokes is set to play his first T20 Blast game for nearly three years next week when he makes his comeback from the finger injury he suffered in the IPL.
The early stages of the Blast, which begins on Wednesday, will see a number of England players including Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid make their first appearances in the competition for several years, and Stokes - who last played in Durham's quarter-final defeat to Sussex in 2018 - is among them.
Stokes' injury had initially been expected to keep him out of action for up to 12 weeks, or early July, but his recovery from surgery has been smooth. "I'm able to bowl, I'm able to get in the gym and I'm able to hit some balls again," Stokes wrote in his Mirror column last week. "I'm at an exciting point of my recovery where full-on training is not that far away and then I can start thinking about playing in a match again."
Details of Stokes' comeback are yet to be confirmed by the ECB and he could target one of the back-to-back 2nd XI T20s against Lancashire on June 14, but Durham have four fixtures in the Blast from June 15-20 and he is likely to return in one of them.
England are due to name a squad for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka later this week, with the group scheduled to meet up on June 19 ahead of the first T20I in Cardiff on June 23. Eoin Morgan suggested in March that he was expecting to be without England's multi-format players during this summer's white-ball series, but their unavailability for the ongoing New Zealand Tests following the IPL could yet see them named in this squad.
Players selected for the white-ball squads and not involved in the squad for the second New Zealand Test will be available to appear in up to six rounds of the Blast, depending on their respective teams' fixture lists. That means Buttler and Stokes are both likely to play more games in the Blast than in the Hundred this summer, with England's Test players set to play a maximum of three group games and the knockout stages in the new 100-ball competition.
Buttler - whose last appearance for Lancashire in any format was on Finals Day in 2018 - is set to play the first of his six games on Wednesday afternoon against Derbyshire, in a strong Lancashire side that will also feature Liam Livingstone, Matt Parkinson, Saqib Mahmood and New Zealand's Finn Allen.
Bairstow and Rashid will play their first T20s for Yorkshire since 2016 and 2018 respectively and are set to be available for up to five fixtures, while Dawid Malan and Joe Root will also be partially available. "It's been a while since I've played for Yorkshire because of injury, availability, Covid, all that sort of stuff," Rashid said. "But I'm definitely looking forward to it: it's always a privilege to play for Yorkshire, where I was born and bred."
Chris Woakes, whose last Blast match was in 2018, is also due to appear for Birmingham Bears after he gets through games for the 2nd XI on Monday and Wednesday. Moeen Ali's last match in the Blast was the 2019 final: he missed the whole of Worcestershire's 2020 season while on England duty, but has been warming up for the Blast by playing for their 2nd XI.
Chris Jordan has returned to the UK from Barbados and will play for Sussex this week, but the group stages are likely to come too soon for Jofra Archer as he continues a period of "intensive rehabilitation" following elbow surgery. Morgan himself is due to be available to captain Middlesex in the early stages of their season following a break from the game after the IPL.
Jason Roy, Sam Curran and Tom Curran will all be available for Surrey's opening fixtures. Roy made five Blast appearances last summer, but the Currans have not played since 2019. They were due to play their first unofficial games since the IPL's postponement on Friday, but rain washed out a planned intra-squad friendly at The Oval.