Ben Stokes: not guilty but a reputation tarnished

England cricketer cleared by court but now faces ECB disciplinary process

Ben Stokes England cricket Bristol Crown Court
England cricketer Ben Stokes leaves Bristol Crown Court with his wife Clare
(Image credit: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Ben Stokes left court a free man yesterday after being found not guilty of affray, but the media’s verdict is that the England cricket all-rounder must work hard to repair the damage to his reputation.

‘Must grow up’

The photographs of Stokes trading blows outside a nightclub last September, and the sordid details of what unfolded in the minutes before the “Battle of Bristol”, have severely tarnished the 26-year-old’s image.

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In an article for The Times, headlined “Stokes must grow up”, former England batsman Steve James says: “Despite being cleared, Stokes must recognise what he has done… he has much ground to make up. He must go above and beyond the norm to do so.”

James also warns that Stokes is now a marked man, the target of every self-styled tough man, who will look to provoke him should they spot him on a night out.

“He simply cannot live the lifestyle he was enjoying back then. The nights out, which were probably never as frequent and wild as some assume, are mostly over,” says James.

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Battle of Bristol

As The Guardian points out, the Battle of Bristol wasn’t the first time Stokes had let his temper get the better of him. The newspaper argues that while the cricketer has tightened up his self-discipline on the field, he’ll have to do the same off it “if he is to realise his full potential as a sportsman”.

Stokes has been included in England’s squad to face India in the third Test at Trent Bridge that starts on Saturday, but must still undergo an internal disciplinary process overseen by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Having been omitted from the Ashes tour to Australia last winter, Stokes has already been punished and it seems unlikely that the ECB will impose further sanctions on their star player, particularly as he was found not guilty in a court of law.

Nonetheless, writes BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew, the governing body “has to strike a delicate balance” in its investigation (which begins after the third Test).

Tread carefully

The game’s image has been sullied by Stokes and by his teammate, Alex Hales, who was involved in the fracas but not charged, Agnew says.

The journalist points out that Cricket Australia came down heavily on three of its players who brought the game into disrepute by tampering with the ball. Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft received bans of between nine and 12 months earlier this year.

In the wake of that crackdown, the ECB knows it can’t be seen to conduct a whitewash, Agnew argues.

“The authorities must ensure they consider their response carefully,” he says. “They need to ensure they do the right thing by Stokes and Hales, while considering the wider picture of the game’s image.”

There are similar sentiments expressed by Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, who urges the ECB “to tread carefully” and not bend to the will of the fans, who almost overwhelmingly believe Stokes has been punished enough.

“They [ECB] need to consider whether they wish to host and endorse what will become a public celebration of the man as much as the athlete,” writes Samuel. “Fans love a rogue, as long as it is their rogue.”

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Drinking culture

Samuel adds that the ECB investigation must also examine the alleged drinking culture within the England squad.

“Lager, vodkas, jagerbombs - Stokes’s consumption on that night in Bristol was almost as lengthy as the establishment’s drinks menu,” he writes. “After the problems on the most recent Ashes tour, the ECB have to address what is perceived as an unhealthy drinking culture in the England team, and the revelations from the Crown Court do not sit easily with that.”

Michael Atherton, the former England captain-turned-Times correspondent, is likewise horrified by the amount of alcohol consumed by Stokes. “There are clauses in an England cricketer’s contract - such as bringing the game into disrepute - that could yet result in punishment,” Atherton says.

But he is against any further punishment, arguing that Stokes should be allowed to resume his trade with a final warning from the powers-that-be.

“If this episode has not taught him that his status comes with certain responsibilities, nothing will,” says Atherton. “It would be a very unintelligent man to find himself in this kind of bother again.”

Reactions to the verdict

England teammate Jonny Bairstow: “I’m really happy that the verdict has come out as it has for English cricket. It’s big for him. It’s been a long ten months for him, for his family… hopefully, we can see him back in an England shirt very, very soon because we saw the impact that he had at Edgbaston only a couple of weeks ago in the first Test.”

Former England captain-turned-pundit Michael Vaughan: “The fact he missed the whole of the winter in Australia is punishment enough for Ben Stokes. I personally think now he has been proven to be not guilty, he should be allowed to play.”

Former England batsman-turned-Sky Sports pundit Robert Key: “As far as I’m concerned, he’s been found not guilty. I think he's been punished enough - he missed the whole of the Ashes, which is such a big amount of cricket to miss. I personally would just let him get on with it.”

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