Court date set to delay Stokes' England comeback

No sooner had he been made available again, than Ben Stokes' England comeback is set to be delayed further after he was given a date of February 13 to appear before Bristol Magistrates' Court to answer a charge of affray. That coincides with the first of England's T20 fixtures in New Zealand, when Stokes was potentially in line to return.

Stokes was cleared for selection by England on Wednesday, following an ECB board meeting. He had greeted the news by tweeting: "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 three Lions on my chest."

Having already been named as part of England's squad for the T20 tri-series, which also involves Australia, he was set to join up with the tour party when they move to New Zealand. However, Avon and Somerset police have now confirmed the date of his court appearance.

Affray, depending on the circumstances, can be prosecuted at either Magistrates Court or Crown Court. At a Crown Court, the maximum sentence is three years imprisonment, but if tried in a Magistrates Court it is only six months.

It is possible that if Stokes lodges a "not guilty plea" this could be done in his absence by his legal representatives. He has already tweeted: "I am keen to have an opportunity to clear my name but on advice the appropriate time to do this is when the case comes to trial."

Trevor Bayliss, the head coach, had hinted earlier on Thursday that England would like Stokes to gain some match practice before his comeback, potentially in New Zealand, where he turned out for Canterbury before Christmas, while unavailable for England. That is now likely to be complicated by his need to return to the UK.

"Hopefully we can get him some cricket somewhere as part of his practice going into the New Zealand leg. That'll be up to him,'' Bayliss told the BBC, ahead of the second ODI against Australia in Brisbane.

"It's all about performance. We want him to be up and running and ready to go. I think there's a few legal things to get through in the next week or so, 10 days, but then it's about being prepared to play. We can't get him to come in and perform in an international match straight away, so it's about getting him ready."

The announcement that Stokes was free to return while awaiting trial provided the latest entry in a saga that has overshadowed England's winter. After being arrested in September, Stokes missed the entirety of the Ashes with the police investigation ongoing, despite being named in the squad; he was also included in the ODI squad to play Australia, before being replaced.

Bayliss said that while the situation was "certainly something we'd rather not have had to deal with", Stokes would be welcomed back into the England set-up.

"I'm happy he's been made available, the players and coaches are looking forward to seeing him,'' Bayliss said. "He's a very popular member of the team and the squad. I'm sure they'll welcome him back with open arms.

"We're fully aware of why he wasn't available, that's fair enough... it's just the way it was. We knew he wasn't going to be available. We set about competing in that Ashes series knowing we didn't have him. That's resigned to history now and we're looking forward.

"It was certainly something we'd much rather not have had to deal with but all credit to the players, once the games came around they were fully focused on playing."