Ben Stokes: the bitter taste of his return – The Editor

The England one-day side has just recorded a notable away win over New Zealand, levelling the current international series. Victory was inspired by the all-round excellence of one Ben Stokes, who notched a quickfire 63* with the bat, took two wickets, and effected two run-outs. This is the same player that should, according to some, currently be detained at home rather than representing his nation. England’s hero is currently awaiting the outcome of a criminal investigation into his physical attack on two men outside a Bristol nightclub; a vicious performance which left one of the victims with a fractured eye-socket.

As the troubling details of that assault emerged back in September, it was immediately clear that Stokes’ involvement in the winter Ashes series was in jeopardy. Indeed Stokes was suspended for the duration of the tour down under, and his absence exacerbated the woes of an  under-powered England test team. Meanwhile, Stokes waited nervously for details of the case against him to develop, hopeful of charges being dropped. He recently revealed that he shifted his sleeping patterns during the Ashes campaign to ensure his body clock was on Australian time in case of a late-call up. However, details continued to emerge which only deepened the all rounder’s culpability.

Stokes apologists, keen for the quick return of arguably the most talented English all-rounder since Ian Botham – some say of all-time – were quick to suggest provocation. Stokes and his England colleague, Alex Hales, also embroiled in the scandal, claimed that the violence was ‘in defence of two men being subjected to to homophobic abuse’ by Stokes’ victims. The men apparently abused have never materialised.

Recent revelations suggest that the real story is a far cry from this cynical, PR-spun fabrication. Alex Hales was intimately involved with a female club-goer, sans jeans, and two men in the vicinity, recognising the English batsmen in their midst, filmed the spectacle on their phones. Celebrities are, of course, increasingly vulnerable to this kind of invasive scrutiny; it begs the question quite why they saw fit to behave so licentiously in a public place. Ben Stokes challenged the men, who refused to desist. At this point the England star directed the men outside, where he proceeded to club a largely passive victim to the earth, in a feat reminiscent of Chapter 4, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ (RHS’ GCSE English students will appreciate the gravity of this comparison).

Stokes celebrates a wicket with RHS alumnus, Reece Topley.

While Stokes’ furstrations are, in principle, understandable, his reaction was anything but. Stokes has a reputation for heavy drinking and raucous behaviour, and while that is not criminal in itself, his failure to recognise where the line is drawn on appropriate behaviour by an iconic sportsman, is. This is a man idolised by a nation of aspirant young cricketers, and while the exemplary, gentlemanly deportment of our very own Mr Napier offsets the sins of his younger colleague, it does not let Ben Stokes off the hook.

Alarmingly, being let off the hook is precisely what England appear to have done with Stokes. His return to the England side while subject to a criminal investigation is, in my view, morally indefensible.  I am a huge fan of English cricket, a religious supporter of the team; but I would far rather we field a side of sound role-models and lost, than won thanks to the efforts of a figure who is yet to express genuine remorse for an act of disturbing violence.

And that is the point here: Ben Stokes should not be banned forever, but his actions back in September were disgusting and, it seems to many, symptomatic of a profound arrogance endemic among modern, young sportsmen. This is not Stokes’ first drunken rampage and, though it may be his last (the personal pain of missing on the Ashes will have been a sharp education for Stokes), he absolutely should not represent his country until he has made amends. That cannot be done until the due process of our country’s legal system allows it. If there are negative implications for England’s sporting prospects in the interim, so be it.


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