Ben Stokes remains “a leader in the England team”, according to the ECB’s chief executive, Tom Harrison, who believes it is time to “forgive and move on” after the player’s involvement in a fight outside a Bristol nightclub last year.
Speaking to BBC Sport at the end of an eventful 2018, in which Stokes’s exploits generated numerous headlines on and off the field, Harrison conceded that the Bristol incident had been an “incredibly negative episode”.
However, he added that he was “giddy with excitement” about the possibilities that await England in 2019, with the twin peaks of a home World Cup and an Ashes campaign – two competitions in which a fit and focused Stokes could be central to his team’s success.
Earlier this month, Stokes was fined £30,000 by the Cricket Disciplinary Commission for his part in the events outside Mbargo nightclub in September 2017. He was retrospectively banned for eight games as well – a punishment that he had already served in missing five months of cricket, including last winter’s Ashes.
In August, he was found not guilty of affray after appearing at Bristol Crown Court, but since the end of the court proceedings, Stokes has appeared to redouble his commitment to his England career – he was singled out for particular praise by his coach, Trevor Bayliss, after playing a vital role in England’s 3-0 Test series win in Sri Lanka last month.
All of which is music to the ears of the ECB hierarchy, who have gone out of their way since the day of Stokes’ arrest last year to ensure that, as far as possible, his rehabilitation takes place on the field. Harrison, for one, is sure that he can be a role model for the sport going forward.
“Ben is a leader in the England team,” Harrison said. “I do think he can [be a role model] – he’s been through a year that will serve as a constant reminder of how quickly things can go wrong if you allow them.
“He’s got great people around him, he’s got good support structures and I’m sure he’s learnt a lesson.”
Stokes’ punishment included being stripped of the England vice-captaincy, while his absence from last winter’s Ashes tour is the sort of career highlight that any sportsman would regret missing.
But Harrison defended the timing of the CDC judgement on Stokes, as well as the independence of the panel that had been assembled to rule over both his misdemeanours, and those of his team-mate, Alex Hales, whose role in the fight did not lead to a court appearance.
“We have an independent body making these judgements, they are qualified people and this has been a proper process,” Harrison said. “The sanctions handed down are serious, this is not something that’s been brushed under the carpet.
“Ben is a key part of the Test and ODI team but I don’t think that’s got anything to do with the sanctions which have been handed down – the processes have been separate and deliberately so.”
Hales was fined £17,500 for his role in the Bristol incident, £10,000 of which was suspended for 12 months. He was also banned for six white-ball matches, two of which he missed in the immediate aftermath of Stokes’ arrest, and the remaining four are suspended.
All of which means that both players have been cleared to play a full part in the tour of the Caribbean in the new year, and after that the World Cup, which England will enter as favourites, with a golden opportunity to end a 44-year wait for a global ODI trophy.
“We’ve got huge plans for making sure the Cricket World Cup is a platform on which we grow the game in England and Wales,” Harrison said.
“It is an unbelievable opportunity for English cricket, it’s up to us to make sure we take advantage of that. And for the first time you sense we have this gilt-edged opportunity to take people from the white-ball game directly into the Ashes series which immediately follows the World Cup.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I’m giddy with excitement about 2019.”