Ben Stokes has claimed his fight near a Bristol nightclub and subsequent court case could be the best thing that has happened to him.
The England and Durham all-rounder was found not guilty of affray after denying the charge in August last year following a six-day trial at Bristol Crown Court. Stokes was not selected by England as he awaited his trial and missed the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia.
The 27-year-old, currently playing for Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals, said in an interview with the Daily Mirror that the incident had changed him for good.
“It must be a subconscious thing that I was that close to my career ending and being thrown away just like that, maybe that is it,” he said. “Thinking all this is going to be taken away from me.
“That might be the thing that has changed the way I do things. It sounds silly, but could Bristol have been the best thing that could have happened to me?
“Who knows, it could have been something else, but just in terms of my way of thinking.
“Nothing good happens after midnight. I still go out, but if you mean going ‘out out’? I don’t go ‘out out’ any more. I used to love going out and celebrating with the lads, but we can do that in the hotel and I don’t miss it.”
After his trial Stokes was cleared to continue his international career by the England and Wales cricket Board after pleading guilty to two charges of bringing the game into disrepute at a disciplinary hearing. He received a back-dated eight-match ban and was fined £30,000. While he awaited the police charges he missed five Tests and 11 white-ball internationals.
Stokes said he returned to action with England too soon and should not have played in the third Test against India at Trent Bridge four days after the trial.
“The trial was a tough week and then everything after it too,” he said. “I’d say it was the toughest two weeks of my life.
“Walking out at Trent Bridge was absolutely awful. All I could hear were boos. Even if there weren’t any. It was a dreadful, dreadful week. I carried that week into the game with me. I shouldn’t have played.”
Stokes played a typically whole-hearted role in the 3-0 series whitewash over Sri Lanka, bowling intimidating spells on pitches that neutered other seam bowlers, scoring a pair of half-centuries and producing moments of tide-turning magic in the field.
It was all a stark reminder of the bristling, bloody-minded brilliance that England missed during last winter’s Ashes – a tour Stokes was removed from in the aftermath of a late night incident in Bristol which has still to reach a conclusion.
In August the 27-year-old was cleared of affray in crown court but will return home to face a Cricket Discipline Commission hearing taking place on December 5 and 7.
Both Stokes and England limited-overs team-mate Alex Hales have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute or actions deemed “prejudicial to the interests of cricket”.
The verdict of the three-man panel, chaired by former Derbyshire player Tim O’Gorman, should be the final word in the saga but as far as Bayliss is concerned Stokes’ recent efforts on and off the field have already shown he has emerged a stronger character.
“I think he’s certainly learnt a lesson since that time. The way he’s conducted himself since he has come back into the fold has been exemplary,” said the Australian.
“That (CDC charge) hasn’t affected him, I haven’t heard it mentioned once around the changing room. I hope he’s available for our next game.”
Bayliss was particularly taken by one moment during the final Test, when Stokes bowled the last over of the evening session.
His final ball of the third day was driven down the ground by Lakshan Sandakan, firmly enough for most seamers to indulge an exaggerated follow-through while leaving a seemingly thankless chase to a fielder.
Instead, Stokes turned on his heels and sprinted furiously in pursuit of the ball before a full-blooded dive saw him reel it in just in front of the rope saving three runs.
“He’s a mad man,” said Bayliss, recalling the incident with a smile.
“How many other blokes in the world would you see do that? No one. And that just says a lot. To see him bowl the ball and then chase the ball all the way to wide mid-on to save it, that’s commitment.
“I got into the lift that night after dinner and he was getting out: he’d just come back from the gym. That’s how hard he works and he deserves everything he gets from the game.
“You can throw the ball to him, you can put him in any situation with the bat, you can put him where the ball is coming in the field.
“For me, he’s the first pick. His averages may not be the greatest in each of his positions. But you add those three disciplines together, it adds up to one hell of a player.”
The tourists will field an unchanged XI at Pallekele Stadium following their resounding victory in Galle, leaving out the fit-again Jonny Bairstow and promoting their star all-rounder to arguably the most crucial spot in the order.
England have spent five years seeking a long-term successor to Jonathan Trott, with Root vacating the role in the summer and Moeen Ali’s double failure in the previous match forcing yet another rethink.
“Ben’s game is in good shape and he is more than capable of batting at three. He is relishing the added responsibility of doing a job at three,” said Root.
“Ben’s technique is sound and he will be able to adapt to this role.”
The talk of responsibility is pertinent given Stokes lost the vice-captaincy last year, in the aftermath of the incident which saw him miss the Ashes and ultimately be acquitted on a charge of affray.
Despite surrendering the formal leadership role, he has never relinquished his influential status in the group and will not shrink from the challenge that comes with his elevation.
He has played 64 of his 85 Test knocks as a number six but will now have the opportunity to define the innings rather than rescue or polish it.
England are nevertheless mindful of over-working their all-rounders, and last week pencilled Jos Buttler in to swap with Moeen if the spinner was tired from his efforts with the ball.
Buttler could play a similar safety net role for Stokes, though it seems unlikely his headstrong nature or endless reserves of energy would allow for that.
“We are in a fortunate position that many in the side could bat in that position. If we feel that he has done a tremendous workload with the ball, then we can adapt and alter the order if it’s necessary, but I don’t expect that to happen,” explained Root.
“Ben is one of the fittest guys in the side, so the intensity of batting in the top order and bowling as one of our three seamers, will not faze him.”
Root also opened up on breaking the bad news to his long-time Yorkshire team-mate Bairstow.
He arrived on this trip inked into the side as first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman only for an ankle injury suffered while playing football during the one-day series to rule him out of the first Test.
His replacement Ben Foakes, originally called up as cover, went on to enjoy what Buttler dubbed “the best debut ever”, making himself effectively undroppable with a composed century and a fine outing with the gloves.
Bairstow trained exceptionally hard to prove his fitness and will be acutely disappointed to be left on the sidelines for tactical rather than medical reasons after three impressive years in the post.
“Jonny was available for selection,” admitted Root, admirably preferring not to hide behind caution over Bairstow’s condition.
“Trevor and I have spoken to him about finding the right balance for this Test with the conditions we are expecting.
“He understands the situation and is aware that we have to pick the side that is best suited to conditions we can expect in Kandy.
“It is unfortunate that he missed out through injury in the first Test. He is a integral part of our plans and is a key member of our core squad and his experience around the group is important.”
Jonny Bairstow not recalled for the second Test.— Simon Mann (@Cricket_Mann) November 13, 2018
If Foakes and Buttler stay in the team in the medium term, it's not clear how JB gets back in the side - unless he bats in the top 3 or replaces Sam Curran, which is not exactly like for like, or necessarily desirable.
Kandy was expected to offer the most seam-friendly conditions of the tour but Sri Lanka’s defeat in Galle led them to request a dry, spinning track.
That meant any prospect of breaking up England’s trio of tweakers – Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach – in favour of a returning Stuart Broad was jettisoned once the surface was assessed.
Provided by Press Association Sport