Ben Stokes has been withdrawn from England’s Ashes squad, pending further investigation into his alleged street brawl in Bristol last month, with Steven Finn stepping into the squad for the full five-Test series.
Stokes has, however, retained his place on England’s list of centrally contracted players for 2017-18, and could yet be recalled to the party if no further police action is taken. Alex Hales – who is also currently unavailable for selection in the wake of the events on September 25 – also keeps hold of his white-ball contract.
In a raft of announcements from the ECB, it was also confirmed that three other players who had been out drinking with Stokes and Hales on the night in question – namely Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball and Liam Plunkett – have accepted a formal written warning and a fine for unprofessional conduct.
All three players have paid an undisclosed sum to the Professional Cricketers’ Association Benevolent Fund and the Hornsby Professional Cricketers’ Fund. The ECB added that the internal investigation into that matter had been closed and that it will make no further comment.
The measures against Stokes and Hales, who were the only two England cricketers still present at the time of the alleged incident outside Mbargo nightclub, were last week referred to the Cricket Discipline Commission, headed by Tim O’Gorman, who will independently review any breach by the pair of the ECB’s directives and regulations.
In a statement, Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, said that Stokes’ retention on an ECB central contract should be taken as a sign that the board were not prejudging the police investigation, but rather were seeking a measure of clarity for the whole squad ahead of what is guaranteed to be their highest-profile series in recent memory.
“With the Ashes just around the corner, it’s important to give the players, the coaching staff and supporters some clarity around a complex situation,” Strauss said.
“This decision will help us in the weeks ahead and give every player and the whole England set-up the best chance to focus on the challenge ahead in Australia.”
“We have spoken to Ben and assured him that our decision in no way prejudges the outcome of the ongoing Police investigation or Cricket Discipline Commission process, as can be seen by the award of Central Contracts.”
Finn, who was overlooked in the original tour party in spite of a late burst of form for Middlesex in the County Championship, now steps in for what will be his third consecutive Ashes tour. In 2010-11 he claimed 14 wickets in the first three Tests, more than any other England bowler at the time, but four years later he was rendered “unselectable” after suffering a meltdown in his bowling action.
“Steven is a high-quality cricketer, with considerable experience of both international cricket and Australian conditions,” said Strauss. “The selectors believe he will add to the range of options and the squad will be further supported by the arrival of the Lions in Australia in November.”
The decision to replace Stokes, who would have been England’s designated No. 6, with an extra fast bowler instead of reinforcing the batting is an indication of how England plan to fill such a huge hole in their first-choice XI.
The three other allrounders in the middle-order – Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and the wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow – can be expected at this stage to move up a place in the order, to allow England to retain a four-man pace attack.
With James Anderson and Stuart Broad also sure to feature in the first Test at Brisbane on November 23, Finn will now be competing with Craig Overton and Jake Ball for the remaining place in the team. Ben Foakes, the reserve wicketkeeper, could also come into consideration if Bairstow – one of England’s most in-form players – is chosen as a specialist batsman.