Ben Stokes reaps rewards of IPL gymwork after playing the 'John Terry role' at CSK

It's not often you get to the eve of the Test summer and an England captain likens himself to a Chelsea footballer. But such are the demands on a modern cricketer like Ben Stokes, the comparison made sense.

"I played a little bit of a John Terry role winning the IPL," the allrounder joked during press commitments at Lord's a couple of days after Chennai Super Kings won a thrilling final in Ahmedabad. Terry famously lifted the Champions League trophy in 2012 dressed in his full Chelsea kit despite missing the final against Bayern Munich through suspension. While Stokes did not go fully yellow, a winner's medal is on its way to a player who made just two appearances despite joining the franchise for INR 16.25 crore (£1.6 million approx). The last of those was on April 3.

Stokes has been back in the UK for two weeks and watched the Ravi Jadeja-inspired victory over Gujarat Titans on his phone in the bar of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, where England are staying for the Ireland Test. He will likely bag a win bonus, too, and any other extras the owners wish to bestow upon the playing group after a fifth IPL title.

Perhaps Ledley King would be a more accurate England centre-back to draw parallels with, considering where Stokes is at right now. A Tottenham Hotspur legend, King was blighted by issues to his left knee throughout his career, not too dissimilar to what the Test skipper has been dealing with since 2017. King managed his issue by limiting training between games. Stokes is following suit.

Taking cues from the 40-year-old James Anderson, Stokes has opted to limit his bowling between Tests. He has not bowled at all this week, believing there are a finite number of overs left in a body with much more than its 31 years on the clock.

"Before I didn't have to worry about that," he said on Wednesday. "I could just bowl and bowl and bowl and turn up pretty fresh. Now I'm probably not able to do that, so in between games is probably the most important bit of managing anything correctly.

"The thing about me is that I don't need much bowling for the rest of my body to tick over. I can have quite a lot of time off and then build up quite quickly. It's not doom and gloom if I do or don't bowl in this game."

Nevertheless, he declares himself fit enough to bowl at Lord's if required and to send down however many overs required of him throughout the Ashes, too. Even at face value, it is a huge improvement in attitude above all else. He was deflated by his knee at the end of February after the New Zealand series, and that in turn was affecting his batting. To go by his net sessions this week, that is no longer the case.

There had been fears before his IPL stint that Stokes would return from India more broken than before, but those did not eventuate. Instead, the lack of playing time meant he ended up using the world's premiere T20 competition as a glorified training camp.

"I think I would much rather have been playing," Stokes said. "I've then seen that as an opportunity to train as opposed to playing and then topping yourself up as the tournament goes along. Once you get into the tournament it's like play, travel, all that kind of stuff. So, I was actually able to turn a disappointing situation into a positive one because I was able to concentrate on properly being able to train, whether that be technical stuff with the bat or fitness stuff, stuff in the gym and being able to concentrate on something else.

"And that was a really good way to get through that long period of having something else to focus on, as opposed to being disappointed I wasn't playing. So looking back on it, you might say it's disappointing to only play two games but I was able to then do something else. Sitting here today, I'm actually thinking it could have been a blessing in disguise - every cloud has a silver lining."

The work put in is noticeable. Though you'd never say he was overweight - certainly not to his face - Stokes' more pronounced cheekbones suggest he's back to the sort of lean figure that marked his stellar year in 2019. Considering a bowler of his pace will put around eight times his body weight through that troublesome left knee at the moment of delivery, it will help him deliver as a functional allrounder this summer.

Given the game's direction of travel, you might regard Stokes' use of the IPL as a training camp as a crass victory for the diehard traditionalists, though only a player of his stature has the privilege to do such a thing. His lack of playing time will not have affected his stock with CSK, who have an eye on him leading them in the future when MS Dhoni decides to call time. But they may think twice about extending it on the same terms in 2023.

To have arrived back primed for the red ball, even in lieu of a run-out in the County Championship for Durham, means Stokes is something of an outlier, albeit a very specific one given his situation. Ahead of a home season in which the longest format is considering its very existence, as franchise competitions multiply and encroach on previously sacred turf, Stokes - a self-proclaimed "huge advocate of the Test format" -acknowledges both codes are up against each other. Though not necessarily in a bad way.

"The whole landscape and the whole game of cricket is literally just changing in front of everyone's eyes so quickly. I see T20 and Test cricket being able to keep being successful and progress side by side.

"Look at what T20 has done for the game in general, the amount of attraction it's brought, new fans, new players it's brought into playing cricket regardless of the format. And also what T20 has been able to bring in terms of Test cricket. The transition between the two games is so different but at certain periods in Test matches you do see that T20 side come out, which is only because the players have been playing it. So, I don't see a world where T20 and Tests aren't being played in the future."

He cedes that commitment to a brand of cricket reliant on ignoring risk and blue-ticking fear may be a little trickier given the excitement around the five-Test series against Australia just around the corner.

"It's hard to ignore and not see," he said of the anticipation. "I don't know what this build-up period before the Ashes is like compared to 2005, no idea, it's very hard to ignore and not be able to see the excitement."

It is Ireland first, however. A one-off four-day fixture even the visitors regard as a distraction given their own bigger carrot of June's World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe. A reminder that whatever trepidation there may be of the new world, the old one was far from equal.