LONDON: England all-rounder Ben Stokes has shown great mental toughness during his 11-month trial and he should be welcomed back into the Test team after being cleared of affray, former national team captain Nasser Hussain has said.
New Zealand-born Stokes missed England’s 2017-18 Ashes tour of Australia while he was investigated for his role in a street brawl outside a Bristol nightclub in September last year.
The 27-year-old was found not guilty on Tuesday before the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) recalled him for the third Test against India which starts at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Saturday.
“I am amazed how well he has coped mentally over the last few months with this hanging over him and as long as they feel he is mentally fit for selection then they should pick him,” Hussain told Sky Sports News.
The ECB confirmed it would now hold its own disciplinary process for Stokes and team-mate Alex Hales, who was also involved in the incident.
Hussain wants Stokes to work on taking his ‘unassuming’ character beyond the cricket field as the player looks to rebuild his reputation.
“The Ben I know and who I see around the cricket team is a popular, unassuming, down-to-earth, very pleasant individual that will stay after a game and do autographs with kids for an hour and give his time,” Hussain added. “But I only see Stokes at cricket, so Ben has to make a decision — the image we see of him at cricket is probably not the image that has been portrayed over the last six months in the newspapers.”
Hussain, however, urged ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission to set an example during the internal hearing and not take ‘the easy option’.
“They need to make a detailed and informed decision on whether those images are right for English cricket,” he said.
In a column for the Daily Telegraph, former England skipper Michael Vaughan said Stokes has ‘suffered enough punishment’ and must be backed to start a new chapter in his career.
“There is no need to keep clobbering him with suspensions,” Vaughan said. “There is no question he brought the game into disrepute but cricketers have few opportunities in their lives to play an Ashes series in Australia and missing that tour was a massive blow for Ben.”
Another former England skipper and batsman Kevin Pietersen joined the conversation on Twitter, saying Stokes’ return can only benefit the sport.
“All sports need their entertainers. Stokes is one of those for cricket. He’s been cleared, HE HAS TO PLAY!,” the 38-year-old said.
Mike Atherton, another former England captain, while abhorring his behaviour is at odds whether he should be punished further.
“With a not-guilty verdict, the way forward seems, to me, to be clear enough and should not involve further punishment,” Atherton writes in The Times.
Atherton, who captained England in 54 of his 115 Tests, conceded Stokes’s heavy drinking that night and what ensued afterwards “is not exactly acceptable behaviour for an England player during international duty”.
“There are clauses in an England cricketer’s contract —- such as bringing the game into disrepute — that could yet result in punishment,” the 50-year-old commented. “Although Stokes was never formally suspended from the England team, his non-selection for the Ashes came about clearly as a result of the events in Bristol.
“He missed the most high-profile series in which an England cricketer can play, essentially a six-month ban.”
Ex-England spinner Vic Marks says in The Guardian there is no doubt Stokes ‘brought the game into disrepute’ on a ‘feral night out’ which does nothing to promote the image of the game the ECB wants to display to families.
Marks draws comparison between Stokes and a superstar all-rounder of another era and one he played with in the great Somerset side of the 1970’s and 80’s, Ian Botham.
“The very best cricketers often ooze invincibility; they are never out and never wrong,” wrote Marks. “They feel invulnerable, capable of dominating any situation. I have witnessed this at close quarters when playing alongside Ian Botham.”
Marks, who played six Tests and 34 One-day Internationals, says Stokes, though, suffers from being a star in a time when social media can destroy you within seconds but compares the professionalism these days of sports stars management teams to those in Botham’s day.
“In Botham’s era the backroom staff were not so sophisticated,” observed Marks. “He once had an agent, Tim Hudson, whose response to an allegation about Ian smoking cannabis was famously, “Doesn’t everyone?”
Marks suggests Stokes take former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting as a role model in moving forward.
“Ponting had his moments of madness in bars as a young Australian cricketer and was dropped in 1999 after an incident in Sydney which left him unconscious in the early hours of the morning,” writes Marks. “He was not required to go to court but he acknowledged a problem with alcohol and his off-field behaviour, and with appropriate help he resolved it before going on to have the most brilliant of careers.”
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018