Ben Stokes is not guaranteed to walk back into the England team when he eventually returns in New Zealand next month, according to head coach Trevor Bayliss.
Stokes has not featured for his country since his arrest on a night out in Bristol in September and, having been charged with affray, he is now set to appear at Bristol Magistrates’ Court on February 13.
That is the exact date the England and Wales Cricket Board had earmarked for the all-rounder’s international comeback, in a Twenty20 tri-series match against the Black Caps in Wellington.
News of Stokes’ court date clashing with his proposed return will have been met with frustration by decision-makers at the ECB, which had issued plans for his restoration to the national set-up less than 24 hours earlier and must now revise those from scratch.
England had hoped the 26-year-old would tune up with a second stint in New Zealand’s domestic competition, having previously spent a month as Canterbury’s overseas professional before Christmas, but that now appears fanciful.
The T20 in Hamilton on February 18 may also come too early if he has limited cricket behind him, making the subsequent five-match ODI series his next likely target.
Bayliss is pleased to have a player who has just been named in the International Cricket Council’s Test and one-day teams of 2017 available once again, but remains careful not to tread on the toes of those who have carried the baton in his five-month absence.
With Jason Roy having made a watertight case with last week’s record-breaking 180 in Melbourne, fellow batsmen Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales have the next four games in Australia to argue their own corner, and Bayliss made it clear he would think long and hard before asking somebody to make way.
“From the coach or selector’s point of view, there’s nothing better than having a difficult decision like that,” he said.
“Is he up to speed and will he be right, in a good enough space from a playing point of view to make it back into the team?
“If we play well in these next four games and we win, it might be very, very difficult for him to come straight back in. In the last couple of years you probably wouldn’t have been able to say that, but where this team have got to – this one-day team – is a great position to be in.
“One of the reasons that we have been successful in the one-day game is because we have more than 11 blokes competing for 11 spots.”
Bayliss is aware opposition players may seek to wind Stokes up to gain an edge, but is not unduly worried about the prospect. The ECB’s performance psychology expert David Young has spoken to Stokes during his time away, but appears unlikely to join the touring staff.
“Firstly, I’m not sure there’s enough room in the team photo for anyone else,” joked Bayliss.
“I know David has been working with him, speaking with him a fair amount, so I think there’s been some strides made there, but that’s something we will discuss over the next few days.
“They (opponents) have tried to press his buttons before and I’m sure that will continue. There are players in other teams who are similar characters and our blokes try and push their buttons too – that’s the way the sport is at the top level.
“Ben’s certainly a leader. He doesn’t take a backward step. We’ve got a bunch of guys who are reasonably passive, you would say, and you need someone in the team who is a bit more outgoing and doesn’t mind mixing it up with the opposition. Ben’s certainly that type of a guy.”
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