Ben Stokes free to play for England after receiving backdated eight-match ban for Bristol nightclub incident

'I have learned lessons,' said the all-rounder after learning his fate 

Jonathan Liew
Chief Sports Writer
Friday 07 December 2018 18:10
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Ben Stokes aims to resume England career after affray acquittal

Ben Stokes and Alex Hales are both free to play for England with immediate effect, after their bans for their involvement in an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September 2017 were both back-dated by the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission.

Stokes was banned for eight matches, a penalty he was deemed to have already served as a result of being prevented from going on last winter’s Ashes tour, and fined £30,000. He was charged with affray and found not guilty at Bristol Crown Court in August this year.

His team-mate Alex Hales, who was also present at the incident, was banned for two one-day matches, a penalty that was also deemed to have already been served at the end of last summer. He was given a further suspended four-match ban and a fine of £7,500.

Stokes pled guilty to a breach of ECB Directive 3.3, or bringing the game into disrepute, in advance of a two-day hearing in London on Wednesday and Friday. In a statement, he apologised to England supporters and the general public for his actions. “I regret that the incident ever happened,” he said. “I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me through this process.

“Cricket and family are my life. This incident has been a huge burden for the last 15 months. I am relieved to get back to playing the game that I love without this hanging over me. Although the disciplinary process is now over, I have learned lessons that will stay with me for much longer.”

Hales admitted he “fell below the high standards expected on an international sportsmen” that night, and also accepted his punishment. Both men were present for the verdict, which was delivered by a three-man panel chaired by former Derbyshire batsman Tim O'Gorman, now a lawyer, along with former Gloucestershire seamer Mike Smith and Chris Tickle, a judge and Warwickshire committee member.

In the absence of an appeal, the verdicts bring to a close one of the most damaging sagas in the recent history of English cricket. The fate of Stokes, who was sacked as England’s Test vice-captain as a result of the incident, became one of the most divisive issues in the game.

Throughout the last 14 months, however, he has retained the full support of his team-mates and captain, who have accepted his explanation that he was leaping to the defence of two gay men when he became involved in a physical altercation with Ryan Hale and Ryan Ali last year.

Bristol couple who Ben Stokes says he was defending, are thankful for Ben Stokes' actions

Stokes and Hales faced additional charges pertaining to social media posts that emerged in the aftermath of the brawl. Stokes was forced to issue a public apology last year after mocking the disabled son of the celebrity Katie Price in a Snapchat post.

Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB, said the governing body accepted the verdict of the panel, adding: “Today is a very strong reminder of the values that sit at the heart of our game and the standards that should always be expected.”

The red and white-ball squads for England tour of the West Indies in January and February will be announced on Monday, and both Stokes and Hales are expected to be included.

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