Ben Stokes set for international cricket comeback against the Blackcaps in opening ODI in Hamilton

England, Blackcaps, Cricket
Ben Stokes hasn't played an international since September 2017. Photo credit: Photosport

Ben Stokes will make his long-awaited England return in the first one-day international against New Zealand - subject to one final check on his fitness on the morning of the match.

Stokes, unavailable for his country for the past five months after his arrest outside a Bristol nightclub last September, appears all set for his comeback at Hamilton's Seddon Park on Sunday.

Eoin Morgan exercised caution in declining to confirm the match-winning all- rounder's participation against the Kiwis this weekend, only because Stokes was still bowling in the nets when the England captain spoke to the press.

Stokes is nonetheless almost certainly about to play his first international match since September 24 - with opener Alex Hales highly likely to be the man who steps aside to achieve the balance Morgan wants in his 50-over team.

Asked about Stokes' readiness, Morgan said: "He's bowling out the back at the minute.

"If he comes through fine today and unscathed tomorrow and a low risk of getting injured on Sunday, then he'll be fit to play."

Stokes' absence has been the premier talking point of the past Ashes winter, in which England lost the Tests 4-0 to Australia without him but then bounced back under Morgan for a 4-1 ODI success - before most recently falling short in the Twenty20 Tri-Series.

Expectations will be high for the return of a world-renowned cricketer capable of turning any match with bat or ball.

But Morgan has wisely advised against anticipating too much too soon.

"I mentioned yesterday that he might be better the more games he does play - this is his first for quite a long time," he said.

"His thoughts will be along the same lines."

Morgan has, however, been impressed by what he has seen so far from Stokes in practice - and his ability to set aside any off-field concerns.

"It's a skill of any professional sportsman, or any professional when it comes down to doing your job, and it's actually a nice release because you get to focus on one thing."

With or without Stokes, England face an exacting task against opponents who have won all eight of their ODIs at home this year, trouncing West Indies and Pakistan.

PA