England cricketer Ben Stokes has told a jury he consumed “two or three” pints of beer and up to seven vodka drinks during a night out that allegedly ended in a punch-up.
Giving evidence for the first time during his trial for affray, the 27-year-old said he was not drunk when an alleged fracas erupted outside a Bristol nightclub after he challenged two men who were “taking the piss” out of a gay couple.
He took to the witness stand on Thursday minutes after one of his co-defendants, Ryan Hale, 27, was cleared of affray, with a judge ruling there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
Stokes, who plays for Durham, is accused of punching Mr Hale and his friend Ryan Ali, 28, who also faces the same charge in relation to the alleged street brawl on 25 September last year.
Mr Hale told police during a formal interview that the cricketer “could have killed” him.
Stokes maintains he acted in self-defence, telling Bristol Crown Court: “I felt under threat by these two and felt I had to do whatever it was to keep myself and others around me safe.”
The all-rounder had gone out with teammates after England’s win over West Indies in a one-day international in the city.
He denied claims he flicked a cigarette butt at two gay men, Kai Barry and William O’Connor, outside the venue.
He said instead he had stepped in to protect the pair after hearing Mr Hale and Ali, who had a glass beer bottle, shout homophobic abuse at them.
“Mr Hale and Mr Ali were shouting homophobic comments towards these two and in return Mr O’Connor and Mr Barry were going back to them,” Stokes told the jury.
He added: “I stepped in. [I said,] ‘You shouldn’t take the piss because they are gay’.
“I was told by Mr Ali along the lines of, ‘shut the f**k up or I will bottle you’.
“As soon as I see Mr Ali swing the bottle at someone and physically hit them with it, that’s when I took the decision that I needed to get involved.
“I was trying to stop Mr Ali from doing damage to anyone with a glass bottle.”
Stokes said he took a swing at Ali before the men tussled and fell to the floor. Mr Hale then allegedly came up behind him and grabbed him.
“There were arms around the top of my body, arms around my legs and trying to keep me down on the floor,” Stokes told the court.
The cricketer said he got back to his feet and saw Mr Hale stood in front of him.
“I felt under threat by these two and felt I had to do whatever it was to keep myself and others around me safe,” he told the jury.
When asked if he had become “enraged” at any point during the fracas, Stokes replied that it was a “difficult question to answer”.
The sportsman added: “I didn’t know they could be carrying more weapons on them.
“They could decide to attack me at any time if I was to turn my back on either of these two.
“At all times I felt under threat from these two.”
Before arriving at court, Stokes tweeted his support for his England teammates as they prepared to begin their second Test against India at Lords, where play was later abandoned due to rain. He gave special mention to 20-year-old batsman Ollie Pope, his replacement in the squad.
On the night of the alleged brawl, Stokes had gone out in Bristol with fellow England players Alex Hales, James Anderson, Jake Ball, Liam Plunkett and Jonny Bairstow.
The cricketer said he drank about five or six vodka and lemonades in Mbargo before leaving with Anderson, Ball and Hales and going to Pryzm nightclub instead.
He told the jury he was “not in a bad mood” as they were shown him pulling a “pretty stupid face” as he posed for a picture with a nightclub worker, a cricket fan, that night.
Stokes and Hales later returned to Mbargo, where Plunkett and Bairstow remained, but were denied entry by doorman Andrew Cunningham because it was after 2am.
Stokes described Mr Cunningham as taking a dislike to the cricketers when they offered him around £60 or £70 to get them into the club, which he turned down.
A short time later, Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor exited the club and began talking to Stokes and Hales.
Stokes denied mimicking or mocking the couple and insisted the only comments between them were about clothing.
“I get told by quite a lot of my teammates that I dress the worst in the team,” Stokes said. “We both exchanged comments about what one another were wearing.”
He described one comment as “about the state of my shoes”.
Asked if he had been homophobic towards the men, he replied: “No, absolutely not.”
CCTV footage appears to show Stokes flicking his cigarette butt towards the couple but the cricketer said he could not remember doing so.
Stokes, of Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Durham, and Ali, of Forest Road, Bristol, each deny a charge of affray.
The trial continues.
Additional reporting by Press Association