Ben Stokes has been handed the first chance to earn a place in England’s opening Ashes Test.
The Durham all-rounder was named in the Three Lions’ team to face a Western Australia Chairman’s XI in their opening tour match which started in the early hours of the morning English time.
Stokes, Gary Ballance and Jonathan Bairstow are the three rivals for the No 6 slot in the first Test, which begins at midnight on November 21.
With Kevin Pietersen not featuring, Ballance also plays but Bairstow – many people’s favourite to get the nod – is not involved. The Yorkshireman played in the first four Tests of this summer’s Ashes series, but was left out for the final game after some poor scores.
Stokes is the only one of the trio who offers a bowling option, although with England fielding four specialist seamers in the absence of spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, it remains to be seen how much bowling he will get in Perth.
Cockermouth-raised Stokes had an excellent second-half of the 2013 season, which is why he is now in Australia, rather than with his Durham team-mates as they received their County Championship trophy at Buckingham Palace yesterday. Stokes was sent home from England Lions’ tour of Australia earlier this year after a number of drink-related incidents, but forced his way into the limited-overs teams during the summer.
His innings was vital to winning the fourth one-day international against Australia and he took a five-wicket haul – his first in white-ball cricket – in the fifth.
The other place still up for grabs in England’s team is as the third seamer alongside James Anderson and Stuart Broad, another senior player who will not feature this week.
All three of the main contenders, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and the uncapped Boyd Rankin will line up alongside Anderson. Each offers prodigious bounce from a great height, something Tremlett was able to trouble the Australians with on England’s last tour there.
England will be led by Matt Prior with Alastair Cook, like Broad, complaining of back trouble after last week’s long flight from England. Michael Carberry will open with Joe Root in Cook’s absence.
Panesar’s absence is explained by a stomach bug, while Pietersen joined the tour late after being allowed compassionate leave because of the death of a close friend in South Africa.
England XI Root, Carberry, Trott, Bell, Ballance, Stokes, Prior (c/wk), Anderson, Finn, Rankin, Tremlett