Ollie Pope should make way if Ben Stokes is selected for Trent Bridge Test

David Cooper 15/08/2018
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Ben Stokes seems likely to make an immediate return for England in the third Test against India after being found not guilty of affray.

The influential all-rounder was absent from the innings-and-159-run victory at Lord’s because of his much-publicised trial at Bristol Crown Court, which concluded on Tuesday.

Stokes’ acquittal was swiftly followed by an England recall and Press Association reports he looks likely to be picked at Trent Bridge.

Here we look at the players who can be asked to make way for Stokes.

OLLIE POPE

Ollie Pope.

Ollie Pope.

In order to accommodate their abundance of all-rounders, England may decide to drop a batsman and Pope is the most vulnerable because of his inexperience. That would mean Jonny Bairstow moves up to four and Stokes slots in at five. This looks like seems like the best solution even though dropping Pope after one Test innings would be unfair on the 20-year-old.

That might mean a more pressure on Bairstow as Jos Buttler isn’t in the best on form. However, given the Indian bowling is lacking in confidence, England can look to manage without Pope.

ADIL RASHID

The leg-spinner was a virtual bystander at the ‘Home of Cricket’, where he did not bat, bowl or take a catch in the field. His return to red-ball cricket has been a relatively low-key affair and it would not be a complete shock if England decided they did not need a spinner at a ground that even Graeme Swann lamented as a graveyard for tweakers. His omission would mean fielding five seamers, though, which could be a case of sameness to the attack .

SAM CURRAN

Sam Curran.

Sam Curran.

Stokes’s replacement Chris Woakes came into the team and made a significant impact, taking the key wicket of India captain Virat Kohli in the first innings before a timely maiden international century sent England firmly on course to complete a comprehensive win that put them 2-0 up in the series. Dropping Woakes after such a display would be a brave call.

Left-handed bowling all-rounder Curran has shown an appetite for the heat of battle this summer rarely seen in 20-year-old rookies. A four-wicket haul and a combative half-century in just his second Test swung the series opener in England’s favour at Edgbaston and bagged him a man-of-the-match award. But at this stage in his career, Curran is an inferior first-change bowler to Woakes so it could be that England take a pragmatic view and leave out the Surrey youngster.

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Another Curran - Ben - on England's horizon after Northamptonshire deal

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Northamptonshire batsman and brother of Sam and Tom Curran, Ben. Image: Northants/Twitter

Northamptonshire have announced the signing of Ben Curran, brother of England internationals Sam and Tom, on a two-year contract.

Batsman Curran, 22, has been playing for the club’s second XI but made his first-team debut in the Steelbacks’ Vitality Blast match against Derbyshire last week.

His late father was former Northants captain Kevin Curran and Ben is the middle brother to Tom and Sam, who have represented England in both red and white-ball cricket.

Curran’s performances have prompted the club to offer him a two-year deal, starting next season, though he will continue playing for Northants for the remainder of this campaign.

The left-hander said: “I’m delighted to have signed for Northants. The fact that my Dad played here too it makes it even more special to be able to represent this county.

“I hope that I can contribute in all three formats over the next few years and fingers crossed we can have a strong end to the season in both the Blast and the County Championship.”

Curran has been playing for the MCC Young Cricketers since 2015, experience that Northants head coach David Ripley says will prove invaluable.

He is convinced Curran has what it takes to thrive at the club, and said: “Ben has scored heavily in all formats for us in the 2’s as well as continuing to churn out runs for the MCCYC’s.

“He deserves an opportunity and we look forward to working with him over the next two seasons. He has a lot of competitive spirit and I know he will make the most of his chance.”

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A fired up Ben Stokes can secure Test series for England against India

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Free man: Ben Stokes.

England didn’t add Ben Stokes to the third Test squad to carry the drinks, the all-rounder is a certainty to play at Trent Bridge this coming Saturday.

The 27-year-old was cleared of affray on Tuesday after a week-long case at Bristol Crown Court, freeing him up to star for Joe Root’s men against India having missed the second match at Lord’s.

And there is no doubt he should and will come straight back into the fold with England leading 2-0 and on the brink of securing the five-match series. Stokes, like he showed at Edgbaston in the opener, is capable of match-defining brilliance.

A fired-up Stokes is a frightening prospect for India’s batsmen given their tour is quickly falling off the rails. There is no point in the Durham cricketer sitting on the sidelines until the England and Wales Cricket Board conclude their disciplinary investigation into his behaviour.

The ECB are reviewing the wider issues surrounding Stokes’ conduct and looking at the extent of which he has brought the game into disrepute, given his privileged and role model position in society.

However, until those summations are founded, he is a free man and has served plenty of cricket punishment already, by virtue of having lost the vice-captaincy following the late-night incident in Bristol last year, which led to a subsequent suspension from the Ashes tour Down Under.

The old adage is you don’t change a winning team and that is a strong argument in this case, given the player who replaced Stokes – Chris Woakes – delivered a man of the match worthy performance at the Home of Cricket.

Woakes will of course retain his key all-rounder berth within the side but Stokes is in line to come in for Ollie Pope – the 20-year-old Surrey batsman who impressed on his Test debut at Lord’s.

On paper, it would appear to be a harsh decision to omit the youngster after just one match but his time will come again in the future and he was just a replacement in the first instance. Stokes is more than capable of slotting in at No5, with Jonny Bairstow moving up a slot to four.

Magnificent: Ben Stokes was the key man in the first Test against India.

Magnificent: Ben Stokes was the key man in the first Test against India.

That said, the form the wicket-keeper batsman is in, he can bat anywhere in this line-up – and deservedly so – while Jos Buttler could also be moved around.

The other option would be to leave out Adil Rashid, who was a virtual bystander in the second match, where he did not bat, bowl or take a catch in the field. His highly-publicised return to red-ball cricket has been low key but England need a spin selection and he is still the best available.

Either way, the presence of Stokes is a must and his comeback is not the news the Men in Blue would have wanted.

The tourists have been lacking confidence and fight which England will hope to further exploit with the all-rounder ammunition of Stokes, Woakes and emerging force Sam Curran.

Stokes can also help England chase a first Test series whitewash since the 2-0, two-match home series victory over New Zealand in 2013, while in recent years, their best clean sweep of a long-haul series came against India, on home soil, way back in 2011.

Given all what has happened, Stokes should now have a renewed sense of perspective about how special it is to be playing for England – and how perilously close he came to throwing the only thing he knows in life away.

Being back on the cricket field for the third Test will feel like the best thing ever and my England are glad to have him back for the remainder of this series.

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