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July 2, 2014
How does Stokes get into the team?
Ben Stokes has been recalled by England for the first Investec Test against India as the only addition to the 12-man squad which was named for both Tests against Sri Lanka.
England have resisted any temptation to respond to pressure for a specialist spinner and have reasserted their belief that the balance of their side in the wake of Graeme Swann's retirement, with Moeen Ali as the only credible spin bowling option alongside four seamers, can be successful in traditional English conditions.
Moeen picked up three wickets in the two Tests although Alastair Cook did not appear to have much faith in his bowling. Adam Riley is being closely monitored at Kent as a medium-term solution to England's spin bowling problems.
Stokes was deemed not to have played enough first-class cricket prior to the Sri Lanka series to retain the place he earned during the Ashes tour of Australia following the broken hand he sustained when punching a dressing-room locker in West Indies.
Since then he has claimed a career-best 7 for 67 for Durham against Sussex - and a 10-wicket haul in the match - although his batting returns have been less eye-catching with 172 runs at 28.66 in four Championship matches.
There will be popular acclaim for the return of one of the few players to enhance his reputation during England's demoralising Ashes tour, but it would be misguided to assume that Stokes will be an automatic pick for Trent Bridge.
He will need conditions in his favour to win selection, either ahead of Moeen if England unexpectedly opt for an all-seam attack on a green seamer or ahead of Chris Jordan if the selectors decide to jettison Jordan as the fourth seamer after two relatively unproductive Tests on flat surfaces against Sri Lanka. As far as Stokes is concerned, the flatter the pitch and the more settled the weather, the better his chances.
Certainly, the national selector, James Whitaker, was careful not to make it sound certain that he will add to his four Test caps. "He is now in a group with Chris Woakes and others and can show what he has got," Whitaker said. "Mainly, he is a vivacious character, he has some x-factor and he is fantastic on flat wickets.
"Ben has done really well over the last couple of weeks. He has bowled over 100 overs and has been in prime form with the ball in the last Championship match. Ben did remarkably well in the Ashes for a young player and he now comes with full vigour into our squad."
Stokes made his debut in Adelaide then scored a maiden Test century in his second outing in Perth before finishing the series with 6 for 99 in Sydney. His subsequent tour of West Indies was difficult for him as he struggled with the bat and it ended with his outburst of frustration.
Woakes, the Warwickshire allrounder, who was consigned to 12th man duties in the two Tests against Sri Lanka, also offers an alternative. He is regarded as a fast-improving cricketer by this group of selectors, he is a former Lions captain at a time when the need for strong leaders is very much in England's thoughts and he has kept his name in mind with a strong display at Edgbaston in the current Championship match against Nottinghamshire, helping to turn the game in Warwickshire's favour with 91 and 5 for 35 in Nottinghamshire's second innings.
Whitaker emphasised that England's selectors will not be rushed into choosing a specialist spin bowler for the sake of it with Swann now in retirement.
"Everybody has become used to the success Graeme had brought to English cricket," Whitaker said. "He was remarkable. We knew we would have to rebalance the team and look at different options about how to go forward into the summer and beyond. We think we have a good balance now for the sort of wickets we play on in England.
"Moeen Ali will help the spin department and so will Joe Root. It is a different way of balancing the team but with four quality seamers as well we have a lot of depth. It is hard to get used to but we have to make it work. We have two or three youngish spinners operating in county cricket who we feel aren't quite ready yet, but in the meantime we have full confidence in Moeen to do a very good job."
It was not always so at Headingley as Sri Lanka turned the second Test to take the series that Cook, England's captain, shared that faith.
"When any new players come into a team it will take a little time for a captain to get confidence in him, to know how they operate and build a relationship," Whitaker said. "We have every confidence that Alastair will do that. Certainly Moeen has shown with the bat how he can fit into this culture and environment and be confident."
Squad Alastair Cook (capt), Sam Robson, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Matt Prior, Chris Jordan, Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett, James Anderson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes
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