As soon as the news broke on Tuesday about Ben Stokes’s arrest in Bristol on Monday morning, it was clear that the ECB had a difficult decision to make. The Ashes squad was announced on the Wednesday and would the all-rounder be among the names in the touring party?
He was and he also retained his role as vice-captain of the side. If that position seemed untenable on Tuesday, it was downright impossible by Wednesday night when The Sun newspaper published a video on its website of the incident.
The video was a game changer, at least in the eyes of the ECB. It shows Stokes, who has clearly lost his head, involved in a violent confrontation in which he repeatedly throws punches at two men. It makes for grim and damning viewing, but the video lacks context – what had prompted such outrage?
The ECB knew on Tuesday, when they met to select their Ashes squad, that Stokes had been involved in a fight and had been arrested. They selected him. The ECB knew on Thursday, after the squad had been announced, that Stokes had been involved in a fight and had been arrested. They suspended him.
What had changed? That video. In a world where everyone has a video camera in their pocket, evidence emerges in the public domain before any trial can be conducted, which condemns the accused before the proper process can be played out.
That’s not to condone Stokes’s conduct nor condemn The Sun, but Stokes has been found guilty by his employers already. His fate should be decided by a judge and jury in their role as moral arbiters, not by the general public and the ECB. Once justice has played out, then it should be up to the ECB to decide what to do with Stokes.
Should he represent England again, if found guilty of actually body harm?
There are players playing the game today who have been found guilty of match fixing and of failing drug tests. They have cheated the game of cricket. Stokes, whilst stupid for leaving himself in such a position, hasn’t offended the game itself.
At the very least there is a lesson here that he needs to learn and learn now. It’s what he does going forwards, not looking backwards, that should define his career from this point.
By Miles Reucroft