LONDON (Reuters) – The return of Ben Stokes to the England squad after being cleared of affray has caused a “great headache” for team selectors before the third test against India that begins at Trent Bridge on Saturday.
The all-rounder has been welcomed back into the team’s ranks but it is still not clear if he will actually start the Nottingham test just four days after his acquittal in the high-profile case.
England lead the series 2-0 with Stokes having played a big part in providing a winning start with his six wickets, including the prize one of Virat Kohli, in the tight opening test at Edgbaston.
Yet in his absence due to the court hearing, England were much more dominant in their second test innings victory at Lord’s with Chris Woakes, the replacement for Stokes, winning the man-of-the-match award for his century and four wickets.
Sam Curran, the other all-rounder, won the same award in the Edgbaston contest for his crucial half-century and five wickets, making it difficult for either him or Woakes to be dropped.
“It’s nice to see guys really taking opportunities… when you get your chance, make it as hard as possible to leave you out,” said captain Joe Root after the second test.
“It’s a great headache to have for us.”
Woakes ought to be safe after his magnificent effort while Curran, at 20 and only three tests into his career, may also be spared. Despite a decent debut with 28 at Lord’s, batsman Ollie Pope may perhaps be the one to have to make way for Stokes, one of the world’s leading all-rounders.
The 27-year-old could be straight back into the spotlight after an 11-month saga ended when he was found not guilty of affray following the late-night street brawl in Bristol last September after England had won a one day international against West Indies.
Coach Trevor Bayliss has backed Stokes’ return, saying it was “for his own well-being” but has given no public guarantees that he will be immediately restored to the starting line-up.
India’s head coach Ravi Shastri faces a very different problem of how to raise spirits with his team, the world’s number one ranked test side, staring at the indignity of losing the five-match series after just three tests.
In the first test to start on a Saturday in England since they played South Africa at the Oval in 1955, India have to improve their batting urgently and will be grateful that captain Kohli, the only one to shine amid the ruins, is fit after suffering back spasms at Lord’s.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Christian Radnedge)