Ben Stokes has been named in the England team to play India in the third Test at Trent Bridge after being cleared of affray earlier this week, captain Joe Root has said.
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 his fellow all-rounder 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.”
Here, we take a look at the key battles that could go a long way in deciding the outcome of the Test in Nottingham.
Runs needed in the middle-order
Jos Buttler v Ajinkya Rahane
There is some speculation that Buttler could be the man sacrificed to make way for Ben Stokes’ return but it would be unusual to drop the vice-captain given his recent comeback from Test hiatus. He has had a quiet series and looked iffy from the get-go when starting his innings, making scores of just 0, 1 and 24 so far. However, England’s No6 has the quality to turn it on at any point. Indeed, if Buttler contributes, the hosts will be eyeing a big total and probably a series win.
Similarly, Rahane has not pulled up any trees and has looked out of sorts at No5, with 18 runs his best outing thus far. In each of his four innings, he has nicked off to pace behind and like many of his colleagues, has struggled with the moving ball and getting his bearings outside off-stump.
But, like Buttler, he is a gifted player and will want to atone for a quiet series so far. However, will have to work on his angles and playing the ball within his zone at the crease, instead of reaching for the Duke.
James Anderson v Ishant Sharma
Incredibly, England’s swing king is only 10 wickets away from equalling Glenn McGrath’s haul of 563 Test wickets. Given the way the 36-year-old is bowling, you would expect him to level that feat and go past the great Australian at some points during the series.
The carrot of becoming the most successful Test pace bowler of all time and moving up to fourth in the all-time Test wicket standings behind only Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan would be a remarkable feat. But for now, helping England to seal the series on his favourite bowling ground will be his top mission.
Anderson has 13 wickets in the series so far and 60 from nine Tests in Nottingham, at an average of just 18.95.
If he can extract movement from a deck famed for it, so should Ishant Sharma, who is India’s chief striker. The tall quick has looked good, claiming seven wickets at 28.28, but will want to get back to the form he showed at Edgbaston after a quiet outing at Lord’s. It is essential for the tourists that the 29-year-old does plenty of damage with the ball while maintaining control. You always get the feeling there is more to come from him.
Openers under scrutiny
Keaton Jennings v KL Rahul
The South African-born batsman’s second-coming in Test cricket has been quiet but satisfactory. Jennings has passed most tests over his technique and temperament, looking assured alongside Alastair Cook. However, so far he doesn’t have enough runs to show for his effort.
Knocks of 42, 8 and 11 have flagged up his inability to build on steady starts while he does seem susceptible to straight balls, with Mohammed Shami taking his wicket twice having turned up his speed.
Facing a walking wounded India side lacking in confidence is his ideal chance to get a big score and he can ill-afford to spurn this chance. In fact, this is another defining Test in his short England career and he needs to find a way of keeping the selectors’ faith.
KL Rahul was bumped up to open at Lord’s, and although the conditions were very much against India’s batsmen – especially in the first innings – like many others, he failed to get to grips with Anderson who dismissed him twice. Worryingly for India, he seems to be lacking in confidence and has a poor recent record overseas. Can he fix it? Yes, because he’s a fine batsman but he will really need to stand up and be counted here.
The hosts are 2-0 up going into the Nottingham match, and with Ben Stokes likely to be back in the fold, are favourites to gain an unassailable advantage in the five-match series.
World No1-ranked India, meanwhile, have had to regroup following their pummelling at Lord’s and will be hoping to fight their way back into the contest.
Here, we look at some fascinating statistics before the match gets underway.