Cricket’s moral­ity is left blacker by Stokes de­ci­sion

Eng­land’s pair of mis­cre­ants were let off lightly over their in­volve­ment in a street brawl which dam­aged the game’s rep­u­ta­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

Since Ben Stokes and Alex Hales were dis­cov­ered to have par­tic­i­pated in a brawl out­side a Bris­tol night­club there has been an ex­ten­sive de­bate about the ex­tinc­tion of the idea of cricket as some sort of metaphor for life. If the moral idea of the game was not dead and buried be­fore Stokes em­barked upon thump­ing peo­ple in the street, with Hales as his mi­nor ac­com­plice, it is now, fol­low­ing the find­ings of the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board’s in­de­pen­dent dis­ci­plinary panel on Fri­day.

Aware, for once, of a bad episode of pub­lic re­la­tions af­fect­ing the sport, the ECB has been care­ful to make the point re­peat­edly that the dis­ci­plinary panel is in­de­pen­dent – in other words, no one should get the idea that in con­duct­ing its in­quiry and reach­ing its ver­dicts on the two play­ers it was sus­cep­ti­ble to in­flu­ence by the ECB it­self – given how much the board must have hoped that Stokes, at least, would be able to pro­vide his ser­vices for the com­ing West In­dies tour, the World Cup and the Ashes se­ries against Aus­tralia next sum­mer.

If we as­sume the dis­ci­plinary panel re­ally is in­de­pen­dent – and that is what is says on the tin – then its members have a view of how to treat play­ers who en­gage in acts of vi­o­lence that seems re­mark­ably con­so­nant with what one imag­ines the ECB it­self would wish.

By an equally re­mark­able co­in­ci­dence, it turns out that the pun­ish­ment both play­ers faced in terms of bans from play­ing at in­ter­na­tional level was cov­ered by the amount of games they had al­ready missed when dropped by Eng­land’s se­lec­tors, in the furore that fol­lowed the in­ci­dent. Hales was banned for two white-ball matches that he has al­ready missed, with a ban of an­other two sus­pended for 12 months: so pro­vided he be­haves until next De­cem­ber, he has served his time, and will only have to pay £3,000 of a £7,500 levied upon him. On the sec­ond charge Hales faced, about “in­ap­pro­pri­ate im­ages” in so­cial me­dia that he cir­cu­lated, he re­ceived an­other sus­pended sen­tence of two matches and a £10,000 fine, only £4,500 of which will have to be paid un­less he mis­be­haves be­fore this time next year.

So, if you like, Hales has been promised a good con­duct bonus of £10,000 if he keeps his nose clean for 12 months: per­haps, put like that, those who feel such be­hav­iour is not as bad as some make it out to be can be­gin to see how ridicu­lous and self-de­feat­ing the ac­tions of this dis­ci­plinary panel are. He has also got to pay for some pe­riod of re-ed­u­ca­tion – the panel calls it “train­ing’, which makes one think first of dogs but then, per­haps, of borstal – about his be­hav­iour in the next three months, or find the sus­pended el­e­ments of the pun­ish­ment im­posed upon him. But leav­ing aside that clap­trap, as the con­clu­sion of the panel says, “he there­fore re­mains el­i­gi­ble for im­me­di­ate se­lec­tion”.

It is right, how­ever, that Hales should re­ceive a lesser pun­ish­ment than Stokes, for any­one who has stud­ied this case – and es­pe­cially who has stud­ied the video im­ages – will know that, of the two of them, he was the mi­nor of­fender. Yet in Stokes’s case the dis­ci­plinary panel was, again, deeply oblig­ing. He was banned for six matches be­cause of the Bris­tol in­ci­dent but, again, he has al­ready missed them; and an­other two matches (al­ready missed) for the “in­ap­pro­pri­ate video”. He was fined £30,000, none of it sus­pended, and doubt­less with a view to try­ing to im­prove cricket’s piti­ful pub­lic re­la­tions, it was di­rected that £15,000 of this be paid to “a suit­able char­ity or char­i­ties”. Those deal­ing with the vic­tims or ef­fects of al­co­hol abuse would seem the most suit­able.

We are told the panel “took into ac­count the com­plex cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing these events, in­clud­ing the con­sid­er­able le­gal ex­penses al­ready in­curred by both play­ers”. What a shame it is not ex­plained what the com­plex cir­cum­stances were, for to most peo­ple drink­ing to ex­cess and go­ing out into the street to fight, loath­some though it is, is not re­motely com­plex.

The point about costs is de­signed to ex­plain why the panel did not make a costs or­der on ei­ther player. It chose in­stead for the ECB, or rather those peo­ple who pour their hard-earned money into the ECB’s cof­fers to watch in­ter­na­tional cricket, to sub­sidise the con­se­quences of be­hav­iour that the panel it­self found was suf­fi­ciently in­iq­ui­tous to merit large fines and the miss­ing of in­ter­na­tional matches.

Both Stokes and Hales were charged un­der ECB di­rec­tive 3.3, which states: “No par­tic­i­pant may con­duct them­selves [sic] in a man­ner or do any act or omis­sion at any time which may be prej­u­di­cial to the in­ter­ests of cricket or which may bring the ECB, the game of cricket or any crick­eter or group of crick­eters into dis­re­pute.” Given what the panel seems to ac­cept went on, Stokes should be thanking God daily that a jury did not take the same view, for he might oth­er­wise be pre­vented from play­ing cricket by a power even stronger than the ECB.

It was un­for­tu­nate that there seemed to be at­tempts to prej­u­dice, or at least per­suade, the in­quiry by var­i­ous of Stokes’s friends in the me­dia, who em­pha­sised his un­de­ni­ably healthy con­tri­bu­tion to the re­cent white­wash of Sri Lanka as, ap­par­ently, a rea­son to think well of his moral con­duct and in­flu­ence. To oth­ers, in­clud­ing me, what we saw in the video footage of the in­ci­dent in Bris­tol in Septem­ber 2017 was, quite straight­for­wardly, thug­gery by some­one who can­not hold his drink.

To say Stokes got off lightly sur­passes un­der­state­ment. If he and Hales have half-de­cent agents the money for their fines will be whis­tled up by an en­dorse­ment here or a per­sonal ap­pear­ance there in no time. The ECB can field Stokes in the in­ter­na­tional sphere next year, and ag­gres­sive young men all over Eng­land can take com­fort from his ex­am­ple to them, that a pro­fes­sional crick­eter can go out in pub­lic and be­have vi­o­lently, and the game just shrugs its shoul­ders.

Stokes should have been banned for the next year, de­spite his ac­quit­tal in court; Hales for six months. As it is, the cash reg­is­ter car­ries on ring­ing, and the moral tone of cricket has just be­come con­sid­er­ably blacker.

What we saw in video footage was thug­gery by some­one who can­not hold his drink

Free to play: Ben Stokes es­caped a ban when he ap­peared at the ECB’s dis­ci­plinary panel in Lon­don on Fri­day; CCTV footage (left) of Stokes and Alex Hales out­side the Bris­tol night­club in Septem­ber 2017

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