HARSH­EST PENAL­TIES MUST BE SERVED UP BY THE ECB

The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - PETER HAYTER

You could tell from An­drew Strauss’ de­meanour that he feared the Ben Stokes af­fair was about to get very se­ri­ous in­deed. The Di­rec­tor of Eng­land cricket is paid to be sen­si­ble, sound and even-handed in all his pub­lic and pri­vate deal­ings, and it’s his na­ture any­way.

So he dis­played no out­wards signs of emo­tion when fac­ing the cam­eras to ex­plain his po­si­tion over the un­holy mess Stokes had got him­self and the Eng­land team into on the eve of the an­nounce­ment of their Ashes squad. But when Strauss shows no out­ward signs of emo­tion this usu­ally means a tum­ble-dryer full of them are smash­ing around in­side him.

Clearly, the first was a vol­canic anger, and he and English cricket have ev­ery right to feel as let down by the be­hav­iour of the best player on the planet as it is pos­si­ble to feel. The sec­ond was the grow­ing con­cern that Stokes might well have made him­self un­s­e­lectable, not only for the Ashes se­ries this win­ter, but also for the fore­see­able fu­ture. The third was acute em­bar­rass­ment that a player ul­ti­mately un­der his charge, and one with well-known drink and be­havioural is­sues at that, was per­mit­ted to get into this sit­u­a­tion in the first place.

Only the play­ers and, pre­sum­ably, their agents are privy to what rules and reg­u­la­tions gov­ern their be­hav­iour these days. Back in 1997, how­ever, the ECB went so far as to spell them out in their hand­book for in­ter­na­tional crick­eters, as fol­lows: “As an Eng­land crick­eter you will come un­der the most in­tense pub­lic scru­tiny, and there­fore it is es­sen­tial that you present the right im­age in terms of both your ap­pear­ance and be­hav­iour on and off the field, and that you con­duct your­self at all times in a man­ner be­fit­ting an in­ter­na­tional sports­man rep­re­sent­ing his coun­try.”

Not that any Eng­land player should need re­mind­ing, but the above is, self­evi­dently, a state­ment of the bleedin’ ob­vi­ous. Cur­fews? Re­ally? Eng­land coach Trevor Bayliss has al­ready de­scribed some of them be­ing out at 2.30am in a Bris­tol night­club in the mid­dle of an ODI se­ries as “very un­pro­fes­sional”. It was also beg­ging for trou­ble. Last Sun­day, Stokes barged into so much of it that it put his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the up­com­ing Ashes at risk and placed a huge ques­tion mark against his fu­ture in the game. Then, af­ter video footage ap­peared al­legedly show­ing the 26-year-old in­volved in a scuf­fle which re­sulted in a 27-year-old man end­ing up in hos­pi­tal and caused the po­lice to ar­rest Stokes on sus­pi­cion of caus­ing

Stokes barged into so much trou­ble that it not only put his Ashes tour at risk, but also a huge ques­tion mark over his fu­ture in the game

ac­tual bod­ily harm, it seemed like ev­ery­one’s worst fears would be re­alised sooner rather than later.

Leave aside whether or not the po­lice do press charges for a crim­i­nal act that car­ries a max­i­mum penalty of five years’ im­pris­on­ment, al­beit for re­peat of­fend­ers.

Ig­nore what abuse Aussie crowds and play­ers might un­leash on Stokes should he travel to Aus­tralia, that he might have to re­turn to face a mag­is­trates’ court any time, nor that Eng­land stand lit­tle or no chance of re­tain­ing the urn with­out their most in­flu­en­tial player. In this con­text, don’t even men­tion de­merit points.

Strauss knows he sim­ply has to take a tough line on in­ter­nal dis­ci­pline or risk sur­ren­der­ing his au­thor­ity and mak­ing English cricket a laugh­ing stock.

And when he even­tu­ally re­views the Board’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the whole af­fair, he knows he will have to turn the spot­light on him­self, too. We must treat play­ers like adults, he in­sisted. Here’s the news. Not all adults be­have like adults ei­ther.

Many have drawn par­al­lels be­tween the Stokes incident and past mis­de­meanours in­volv­ing Ricky Ponting and David Warner.

Back in 1999, Ponting ended up with a black eye af­ter a night out in King’s Cross, Syd­ney, and re­solved to ad­dress his drink prob­lem and be­came one of Aus­tralia’s great bats­men and cap­tains. Warner, sim­i­larly, ap­pears to have taken the pledge af­ter lay­ing hands on Joe Root in a Birm­ing­ham bar four years ago – a slap that earned him a two-Test ban from Cricket Aus­tralia.

Oth­ers trawl­ing through sim­i­lar in­ci­dents in­volv­ing crick­eters might even con­sider the tragic story of David Hookes, the for­mer Aus­tralian Test bats­man, who died in 2004 af­ter a ver­bal al­ter­ca­tion out­side a St Kilda ho­tel es­ca­lated.

The 48-year-old took a sin­gle punch from one of the ho­tel bounc­ers, fell back­wards on to the road and suf­fered se­vere head in­juries from which he never re­cov­ered, dy­ing in hos­pi­tal the fol­low­ing day.

Only Stokes knows if al­co­hol was what fu­elled his fury the other morn­ing, but he has openly ad­mit­ted he is no stranger to its de­lights or its demons. In an ex­ten­sive in­ter­view in The Times mag­a­zine last Satur­day, some of the con­tent of which has made more un­com­fort­able read­ing with ev­ery pass­ing day, he of­fered this puff for his ma­jor spon­sor, the en­ergy drink pro­ducer Red Bull.

“It’s the full-on for me,” he says. “I drink it dur­ing matches for hy­dra­tion. I al­ways drank it, even as a kid. And it does mix well with Jager­meis­ter.”

Help­fully, the in­ter­viewer went on to ex­plain: “In­deed, he’s a leg­end in that re­spect, once claim­ing he lost count af­ter 20 Jager­bombs. When was the last time he had a Jager­bomb night? He purses his lips as he thinks. “Prob­a­bly af­ter Edg­bas­ton.”

Mean­ing, one pre­sumes, the night af­ter Eng­land’s win over West Indies there last month. Great.

“I’m 26, not 14,” Stokes said in that ar­ti­cle.

Nei­ther Stokes nor Strauss can claim this has come out of a clear blue sky. Ar­rested fol­low­ing a drink­ing ses­sion in Cock­er­mouth in 2011, af­ter which he spent a night in the cells that he de­scribed as the worst of his life – un­til now – and in 2013 he and Kent’s Matt Coles were sent home from the Eng­land Li­ons tour to Aus­tralia af­ter re­turn­ing drunk to the team ho­tel.

And while Stokes has been warned more than once over his off-field ac­tiv­i­ties by his agent Neil Fair­brother, among oth­ers, by all ac­counts the fa­ther of two who is about to marry his fi­ancée Clare Rat­cliffe, is not the only Eng­land player to have en­joyed them­selves rather too much, and rather too of­ten, for the man­age­ment’s com­fort this sum­mer.

So what­ever the fi­nal out­come, all of those in­volved, from the top down, from Strauss to Stokes and all in be­tween need to take a long hard look at the of­fend­ing and of­fen­sive video re­leased yes­ter­day, then at them­selves.

If Stokes is found as guilty as the footage makes him ap­pear, the penal­ties will be se­vere, the player must seek help to ad­dress his un­der­ly­ing is­sues, and it should go with­out say­ing noth­ing re­motely like this incident must ever hap­pen again.

The ques­tion Strauss must also ad­dress is how it was al­lowed to hap­pen in the first place.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Fiery: Ben Stokes has long ad­mit­ted to pos­sess­ing a short fuse but his lat­est flash­point could see him out of the game for some time

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