Stokes confirms delay to England comeback

Ben Stokes has confirmed that his England comeback will be deferred after he was given a date of February 13 to appear before Bristol Magistrates' Court to answer a charge of affray.

That date coincided with the first of England's T20 fixtures in New Zealand, when Stokes had initially been scheduled to make his return to action. Though he might have been able to enter a plea through his legal representatives, he has now confirmed his intention to remain in England and appear at court in person.

"As has been confirmed in the media a first hearing date at court has been set for 13th February," Stokes wrote on Twitter. "In the circumstances, I have decided that it would not be right to join my teammates until after attending court on the 13th."

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, that comeback was quickly thrown into doubt when Avon and Somerset police 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.

The expectation is that Stokes will plead not guilty to the charge. "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," he said in a statement shortly after his England recall was confirmed.

Trevor Bayliss, the head coach, had hinted last week 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. But that plan has now been 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 said.

"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.