Following England’s 10-wicket defeat to Australia, this week in the first of five Tests, England lacked flare across all aspects of their game. Principally, their bowling was one-dimensional, and although competitive for the first three days, their batting fulfilled the speculatory concerns aired before the game, in the second innings. As a result, further cries for the resolution of the Stokes saga can be heard, to inject energy, fight and passion back into the England team and push their way back into the series.
As it stands, publically there is little or no progress in relation to Ben Stokes and the investigation into him following an alleged assault, which he was arrested for in September. As a result, publically the ECB maintain their position on him and therefore he is not available for selection until the police have completed their investigations. I highlight the word publically because although all official sources are maintaining there are no developments in the Stokes saga, there appears to be a momentum shift in Stokes, his public presence and how he is spending his time.
Firstly, over the past month Ben has started using his social media again. He has been particularly active on Instagram and on Twitter. In particular, he published a video on Twitter wishing his team mates luck in the first Test last week and also engaged in a disagreement with Matthew Hayden. However, of itself a return to social media suggests nothing.
Secondly, and linked to the first point Stokes has made it significantly clear that he is back training again. He has posted several times on social media, videos of him bowling and batting in the nets at Chester-Le-Street, Durham. Again, of itself it does not suggest anything and it may just be that his hand injury has now healed and he has decided to train again.
Thirdly, Stokes caused a social media frenzy last night, having been spotted at London Heathrow and was speculated on by ex-England players, UK bookmakers, the TV host Piers Morgan and a large proportion of English cricket fandom. As it transpires, Stokes was at London Heathrow, however, it was confirmed he is travelling out to New Zealand to visit family and train. The ECB have confirmed that they knew about Ben’s plans, that they had no involvement in his arrangements and maintained he is still not available for selection for England.
Further developments have now suggested that Stokes is due to play for Canterbury and could play as soon as this coming weekend. Interestingly, only last did week did Canterbury batsman, Ken McClure, step down from the team following his pleading guilty to assault. Although the circumstances are different, as Stokes has not yet reached the point of being charged and submitting a plea, it is still surprising that Canterbury are considered having signed Stokes, considering all that surrounds him.
What does this mean for Stokes and his immediate England future?
The ECB have only said he cannot play for England and as a result have granted him permission to play for other teams. Legally, whilst on bail there are no constraints on his travel (from the UK at least, although there may be constraints on him entering and working in other countries) and therefore he can also travel wherever he wishes. When considering the above together, it is clear there is a shift in momentum. Further to this, The Sun and beIN Sports have today reported that he WILL join up with the England squad for the third Test.
Speculation has surrounded Stokes for the previous two weeks, with an announcement due to have been imminent from the Police, confirming whether they wish to charge him, or drop all charges. Obviously, until the ECB make any confirmation on Stokes this is all speculation, however, the ECB remained silent on Stokes’ travel to New Zealand until social media exploded in the realisation that he was at London Heathrow with his England kit. As a result, I believe this may further suggest that the ECB may not have released all of its information and plans in relation to Stokes.
For Stokes and England, him playing in New Zealand can only be a good thing. It has positioned him in a geographically intelligent spot. Principally, if he is permitted to join the team, he will only have a several hour flight and therefore there will be minimal effect of jet lag. Further, him playing competitively at a high level will offer the best practise for him to prepare for the Ashes, if he is permitted to play.
Therefore, we can only wait and see. Stokes would be a much-needed addition to England and could only strengthen and adduce greater fight into the team.
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