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Stokes still in England reckoning
Ben Stokes, the Durham allrounder, has been offered encouragement by the England management that he can win a return to international contention after being sent home from the Lions' winter tour of Australia for disciplinary reasons.
In February, Stokes and Kent's Matt Coles were punished for "contravening their conduct obligations" and dismissed from the touring party, after a second offence that coincided with Andy Flower's arrival in Australia to check on the Lions. Stoke recently met with Flower, England's team director, and Ashley Giles, who is in charge of the limited-overs sides, and was told to stay out of trouble and focus on his game.
"They told me it's not a clean slate but a cross has not been put through your name either," said Stokes, who played five ODIs and two T20 internationals for England in 2011. "Just keep playing your cricket and keep performing, that was the message."
Stokes' untimely return from Australia attracted unwelcome headlines for the second time in his career - in December 2011 he was arrested for obstructing a policeman in his duty, in what was believed to be a drink-related incident. On this occasion, Flower, Giles and England's managing director, Hugh Morris, have moved quickly to remind him of his responsibilities.
"People have made their minds up as to what happened and you can either believe it or not," Stokes told the Sunday Times. "I've got to learn from it. I'm not putting it behind me, it's always going to be on my mind, but I now know what Andy Flower, Ashley Giles and Hugh Morris want from the players they want to pick.
"It was an eye-opener. It has given me a lesson not just in cricket but in life. You learn by your mistakes, I guess, and if any situation comes along again that resembles those two, I'll know the right thing to do. We've got to remember we are role models for kids and think of the impression we give them as professional sportsmen."
Having long been considered one of England's most-talented prospects, his international career stalled after elevation to the limited-overs sides as a batsman two summers ago. A finger injury that required three operations was a major setback and then a back problem hampered him in the early part of last season but his bowling has continued to develop, complementing a first-class batting average of 37.13.
"You would have to run over it with a truck to damage it now," he said of his right index finger. "Getting it fixed then was the right thing to do because otherwise I probably wouldn't be bowling now. When I first started bowling for Durham I was a bit of an 'I'll-give-it-a-go' sort of guy but last year I was given a lot more responsibility, bowling in more high-pressure situations, and that helped my confidence and consistency. I tend to swing it. Mind you, if you can't swing it up here in Durham, you probably can't swing it anywhere."
Batting at No. 5 and coming on first-change with the ball for Durham will give Stokes the chance to press his England case in both suits. Performances on the pitch and a more mature attitude off it will also have to go hand in hand.