Ben Stokes cleared of charges from 2017 late night incident
Ben Stokes has been found not guilty of the charges which have hung over his head since September of last year. At the time, footage of Stokes’ involvement in a late night brawl outside a nightclub inundated the cricket world, and resulted in him missing the ensuing Ashes series against Australia.
Stokes, who was widely criticised for his role in the incident, claimed that he was acting in self defence during the incident, and that he had initially entered the fray to defend two men who were on the receiving end of repeated homophobic slurs.
He argued that after stepping to their defence, he was threatened by two men, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, the former of whom was cleared of the same charge alongside Stokes.
Following the acquittal, the English Cricket Board will now determine whether there needs to be any additional penalty placed upon Stokes, as well as Alex Hales, who was also present at the time of the incident. Clearly, the acquittal works in his favour, however his presence at a nightclub in the early hours of the morning in the middle of an International series, reportedly extremely inebriated, is likely what will most perturb them. It will, however, be remembered that the powerful all-rounder already missed a significant period of cricket after it occurred.
Being cleared of the charge means Stokes should theoretically be available for England for their third Test match against India, though in the second Test they didn’t appear to miss him a whole lot. After the first Test, which England won by 31 runs on the back of Stokes’ four fourth innings wickets, he was forced to miss the second so that he could be present at his hearing.
In the second Test, however, England were dominant, bowling India out for 107 and 130 while accumulating 7/396 themselves in their solitary innings to win by an innings and 159 runs. In what will cause a welcome headache for England selectors, Chris Woakes, the man who was selected to replace Stokes in the Test, was the best player in the match, dominating with both bat and ball. He snared two wickets in each of India’s innings to finish with match figures of 4/43, while in England’s lone innings he amassed an unbeaten 137. It’s unlikely he’ll be dropped following such a performance, but if Stokes is available it is difficult to see England overlooking him.
The big-hitting, fast bowling Stokes is arguably his team’s most important player. In 43 Test matches to date he has accumulated 2606 runs, with a high score of 258, an average of 34.28 and an impressive strike rate of 61.79. As a bowler, he has snared 104 total wickets at an average of 32.97, and his consistent lines and lengths and ability to move the ball off the seam make him dangerous in a range of conditions.
Since returning to the Test arena from his hiatus following the incident in September of last year, however, he hasn’t been at his best, particularly with the bat. In this time, he has managed just 177 runs in his four Test matches at an average of 22.15. With the ball, he has averaged an impressive 22.78, though this number is heavily influenced by his 4/40 in the second innings of the first Test against India.
Regardless of his indifferent form, however, he is an integral part of the team, and if he is available he will play. With Woakes having come into the side as a very much like-for-like replacement, their team balance may seem a little strange with two very similar all-rounders alongside one another, but with the number four spot far from settled it is certainly reasonable to expect it could happen. Likely, that would require Jonny Bairstow to move to number four, Stokes to bat at five, and Woakes to come in at six.
Whether or not he will even be available for selection is still up for debate, but the ECB, the English cricket team, and of course Stokes himself will all be breathing a lot more easily now that this saga is over with. It ends an 11-month period which saw one of their most talented players become their most criticised, and with England far from where they would like to be as a Test side, his return as a permanent feature of their team will be a welcome one.