Published in Gulf News, Aug 15th, 2018 By Nick Hoult & Tom Morgan, The Telegraph Group Ltd, London
All-rounder returns but questions remain
London: Ben Stokes will make a sensational return to the England Test team on Saturday after he and fellow defendant Ryan Hale were cleared of affray by a jury at Bristol Crown Court. But the repercussions of this will run and run.
Stokes — who is understood to have incurred pounds 140,000 (Dh651,428) in legal costs — could still face an ECB disciplinary charge for the allegations of heavy drinking and a street fight that left two men unconscious.
There is also the matter of over a video of him mocking the disabled son of television personality Katie Price. Stokes apologised at the time but a decision on whether it will be part of the ECB cricket discipline commission looking into his case is still to be finalised.
It is understood that senior figures at the ECB felt let down by Stokes’s behaviour while on England duty in Bristol last September but ultimately it is the commission — which is independent of the governing body, although funded by it — which will decide if he and Hales brought the game into disrepute.
But it is understood the commission’s case will take several weeks and it will probably not sit until the autumn, leaving Stokes clear to play in the rest of the Test series against India and Durham’s Twenty20 Vitality Blast campaign.
The commission has still not formally charged Stokes and Hales and the ECB would have left itself open to a legal challenge had it prevented both from playing in the interim.
Root is understood to have approved Stokes’s return to the Test team. Andy Flower, the interim director of cricket, head coach Trevor Bayliss and national selector Ed Smith were also consulted, with the decision made after conversations with Stokes following his acquittal. Stokes will meet up with England at Trent Bridge on Thursday, when Bayliss will explain why the management thinks he is ready to play again so soon after a high-profile court case.
Stokes’ return poses a selection problem. Chris Woakes replaced him at Lord’s last week and scored a maiden Test hundred and was named man of the match, while Sam Curran was man of the match in the first Test at Edgbaston. Adil Rashid could be dropped after playing no part in the Test at Lord’s but that would leave England without a specialist spinner. England have always picked Stokes when he is available and as long as Bayliss and Root are satisfied he is mentally ready to return, he is set to be picked. The players have kept in constant touch with Stokes during his trial and he has insisted from when the incident occurred in September that he could not wait to clear his name.
In the longer term, it will be left to the commission to decide if Stokes should be suspended for all or part of England’s winter that includes tours to Sri Lanka and West Indies. The delay in holding the case is to allow the legal teams of both Stokes and Hales to prepare their defence and sift through any new evidence that emerged during the court case. Both will argue missing the winter tours to Australia should be taken into consideration as time served if any bans are handed down.
It was also instructive that Stokes’s lawyer brought up in his statement the fact Stokes not had broken any team curfew in September. It could be tricky for the ECB to argue he broke the terms of his contract because at the time of the incident there was no curfew for England players in place. A midnight curfew was only brought in during the Ashes tour following unrelated stories of late-night drinking.