ECB clears Stokes for selection despite affray charge

LONDON: Ben Stokes will now be considered for England selection again and is set to return next month despite being charged with affray, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced Wednesday.

Stokes was suspended from international duty by the ECB following his involvement in an incident outside a nightclub in September that reportedly left a man with a fractured eye socket.

As a result, the Durham all-rounder missed the whole of England’s 4-0 Ashes series defeat in Australia.

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Although England are currently involved in a ODI series in Australia, the ECB said Stokes was expected to return to the England squad in his native New Zealand for February’s triangular T20I series that is being co-hosted with Australia. Afterwards, England will remain in New Zealand for five ODIs and two Tests.

Wednesday’s announcement leaves the ECB in an awkward position given they banned Stokes when he had not been charged with any offence and have now made him available for England duty just days after prosecutors brought charges against him on Monday.

But following a board meeting, in which they said “all considerations were taken into account”, the ECB said it had been agreed that Stokes “should now be considered for England selection”.

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The ECB said Stokes’s intention to contest the charge had been crucial in its decision to allow him to resume an England career that currently comprises 39 Tests, 62 one-day internationals and 21 Twenty20 internationals.

“Given the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) decision to charge him and two others with affray, confirmation of his intention to contest the charge and the potential length of time to trial, the board agreed that it would not be fair, reasonable or proportionate for Ben Stokes to remain unavailable for a further indeterminate period,” said the ECB.

Stokes responded by admitting he is desperate to return to England action as soon as possible.

“Representing my country is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever been lucky enough to do, walking out on to the field with the England shirt on is a privilege and a honour,” he tweeted. “I’m extremely delighted to be given this opportunity to do this again. I can’t wait to get back out on a pitch with the 3 Lions on my chest and feeling that pride that we all get and giving everything for the team.”

Former England captain Nasser Hussain sympathised with the ECB, telling Sky Sports: “It was an incredibly difficult decision to make for the ECB and I don’t envy them — they were damned if they do (select Stokes) and damned if they didn’t.

“They have a person who at the moment has not been found guilty of anything in court of law and as he said in his statement he is going to contest the charge which means it is going to go on longer,” he said. “It seems odd in certain ways that when he wasn’t charged with anything he was not allowed to play for England and now that he has been charged with affray they are letting him become available for selection.”

But Stokes’s fellow former England captain and Sky pundit Mike Atherton labelled the ECB’s stance “illogical”.

Stokes and two other men will appear at Bristol Magistrates’ Court on a date to be fixed following the incident in the early hours of September 25 after England had beaten the West Indies in an ODI in the city.

Stokes, who came to England as a boy when his father changed jobs, sparked talk of a possible international recall by playing for New Zealand domestic side Canterbury for a month and he had recently been cleared by the ECB to appear in this year’s edition of the Indian Premier League following an impressive first season in the lucrative T20 tournament.

Under English law, affray, which refers to fighting in public, can carry a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison.

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