Despite being found not guilty of affray following his week-long trial, Ben Stokes is not quite out of the woods yet. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is to reconvene a disciplinary committee to consider, now the criminal proceedings have finished, whether Stokes and his England team-mate Alex Hales have brought the game into disrepute.
The Cricket Disciplinary Committee (CDC) operates at independently of the ECB itself and can impose penalties ranging from a caution/reprimand as to future conduct to an unlimited fine or suspension and the nuclear option of termination of central contract.
Hopefully, the folly of becoming embroiled in the fracas outside the Bristol nightclub should be blindingly obvious to Stokes and Hales, and as high-profile, international sportsmen, they should expect to be held to a higher standard than others. But how does this entitle the cricket authorities to even contemplate disciplinary action when the circumstances have nothing to do with cricket?
Whether you think Stokes was right or wrong to become involved in the situation, there can be no way that any right-thinking person would equate his behaviour to his position as a professional cricketer. Were he a footballer or a rugby player, his conduct and involvement on this occasion was completely unrelated to his position, and surely has no bearing on the reputation of the game of cricket.
Disreputable behaviour is not uncommon to the cricketing world – ball tampering, spot betting and match fixing have all reared their ugly heads in the past few years. The behaviour of the Australian players Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft was disreputable in the extreme, and quite rightly, their national association took action against the players.
This kind of behaviour is completely different to Stokes’. In interfering with the condition of the match ball, the Australian players sought to gain an advantage in order to materially affect the result of a test match. They damaged the reputation and the integrity of the sport by their actions.
Whether he was, as he maintains, defending some strangers from homophobic abuse, all Stokes has done is to demonstrate an appetite for confrontation and a penchant for physical violence. There was no disciplinary inquiry into the bar room brawl between David Warner (yes, him again) and England’s Joe Root back in 2013, so why are the ECB seeking to make an example of Stokes and Hales?
Both players missed last winter’s Ashes tour as a result of the incident, while Stokes has missed further test cricket this summer (the recently concluded second test at Lord’s) by virtue of finding himself in a Bristol courthouse dock.
Surely the best course of action now would be for the ECB to speak to Stokes and Hales internally, remind them of their responsibilities and draw a line under the whole sorry mess? What possible benefit can be derived from further investigating and interrogating these players, who have suffered enough reputational damage already? Both have played for England since last September, so quite why the ECB feel the need to prolong this mess is anybody’s guess.
Ben Stokes, although held in high regard within the England camp, comes across as a fairly unpleasant character, frequently snarling and mouthing off on the pitch. Maybe that’s what makes him such a successful sportsman. Maybe he’s just not a particularly nice bloke.
But he has been found innocent in a court of law and should be allowed to move on with his life and his career. ECB: let it go – it just makes you look churlish and petty in the extreme to continue with disciplinary investigations. Give Stokes (and Hales, if necessary) a slap on the wrist – in private – and get on with your lives.