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Stokes available for England selection despite charge: ECB

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 on 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.

Although England are currently involved in a one-day international series in Australia, the ECB said Stokes was expected to return to the England squad in his native New Zealand for February’s triangular Twenty20 series that is being co-hosted with Australia.

Afterwards, England will remain in New Zealand for five one-day internationals 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.

ALSO READ: England’s Stokes charged with affray over nightclub fight

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”.

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,” the ECB said.

‘Incredibly difficult’

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.

“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.

“It is a very, very complicated matter and they are saying this is going to drag on so long they are going to let him be available.”

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

Stokes and the 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.

ALSO READ: Australia complete 4-0 Ashes series rout of England

Stokes responded to Monday’s charge by vowing to “clear my name” and thanking family, friends, team-mates and cricket fans for their support, saying his intention now was to focus on his cricket.

Prior to the Ashes, Stokes had been vice-captain to England Test skipper Joe Root and former Australia captain Ian Chappell spoke for many observers when he said England “didn’t have a hope in hell” of winning the series without him.

Chappell was proved right, although such was Australia’s dominance that even if Stokes, an aggressive batsman, lively pace bowler and brilliant close-catcher, had played England may well have still lost the five-Test series.

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 Twenty20 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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