England captain Joe Root has announced Ben Stokes will return for the third Test after being cleared of affray at Bristol Crown Court.
Stokes, who was acquitted just three days ago after a case which began almost 11 months earlier following a late-night brawl in the Clifton area of Bristol, will replace Sam Curran against India at Trent Bridge on Saturday.
Root described the switch as “probably one of the most difficult selections” he has been part of as Test captain, but added Stokes is confident he is mentally ready to play again.
Stokes missed the Lord’s victory which last week took England 2-0 up with three to play because of a clash with his court date.
Curran is one of several England might have chosen to step aside, despite his man-of-the-match performance in a thrilling 31-run victory for the hosts in the first Test at Edgbaston.
“Sam misses out – Ben comes into the side,” Root said at the start of his pre-match press conference in Nottingham.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult selections I’ve had to make as captain.”
The decision was made only after he personally consulted with Stokes, to be confident the match would not come too soon for the 27-year-old former vice-captain, and all management staff kept a close eye on his preparation over the past two days.
“He’s just desperate to get back playing cricket, make that his main focus,” said Root.
“I sat him down yesterday, just me and him, and asked him where he was at. He told me he’s desperate to get out there, wants to put in performances and concentrate on his cricket now.
“He felt he was ready to play. We obviously assessed his fitness as well, over the course of the two days.”
England head coach Trevor Bayliss will decide over the next two days whether Ben Stokes is ready to make his Test return.
The influential all-rounder was cleared of affray on Tuesday after a week-long case at Bristol Crown Court, relating to a late-night fight in the city following last September’s one-day international against the West Indies.
Stokes was instantly recalled to the England squad ahead of the third Test against India, which starts at Trent Bridge on Saturday.
Bayliss, speaking at a press conference in Nottingham on Thursday, said: “It’s good to have him back around the squad.
“I’m happy for Ben and glad it’s all over. I haven’t actually spoken to him since…but I’ve got the next two days to assess where he’s at.”
Bayliss continued: “It’s a good position to be in. Whether he plays or not we’ve got some guys in good form in the team.
“It’s a difficult decision whoever misses out, whether it’s Ben or anyone else. It’s a position we’ve been trying to get into for a while. We have some good young players coming in.”
On Stokes’ recall to the squad, the Australian continued: “It was a collective decision. Myself, the management, the captain, Andy Flower, the board – everyone had a bit of a say and basically thought for his (Stokes’) own well-being it was good to get him back around the cricket.
“There’s nothing automatic about selections, we’ll see how he is mentally as well as physically.
He’s not played for a couple of weeks. It’s a difficult decision to make.”
Stokes’ acquittal ended legal proceedings into the Bristol incident but he and team-mate Alex Hales will be the subject of a Cricket Discipline Commission investigation.
And Bayliss added: “Since the incident we’ve done a lot of work with team culture with the two captains – and that’s ongoing. Changes with curfews and that type of thing.
“In the past all the other teams I’ve been involved with and this one, when I arrived, would treat teams like adults and they (players) will respond like it.
“For a team on the road 11 months out of 12, we had an incident we’d rather have not happened to a degree and we’ve thought we needed to do something different.
“There were a couple of small indiscretions in Australia after that incident and I think the players have finally woken up. They’ve learned their lesson and the way they go about their profession has been top class.”
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.
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.
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 .
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.