LONDON – England all-rounder Ben Stokes should be welcomed back into the Test team after being cleared of affray on Tuesday, said former national captain Michael Vaughan.
Vaughan, who has forged a successful career as a pundit since retiring from the crease, said the 27-year-old New Zealand-born star had been punished enough over the 11 months since a late-night excursion in Bristol following a one-day win over the West Indies led to him being charged with affray.
A jury on Tuesday unanimously decided in less than three hours that Stokes was not guilty as was his co-defendant Ryan Ali, who was knocked unconscious in the brawl.
However, Stokes and team-mate Alex Hales - who was with him when the fracas occurred - is likely to face a charge of disrepute by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) which will be heard by the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) chaired by Tim O'Gorman, a former Derbyshire batsman and qualified solicitor.
"I think the fact he missed the whole of the Winter in Australia is punishment enough for Ben Stokes," tweeted Vaughan. "I personally think now he has been proven to be Not Guilty he should be allowed to play."
Kai Barry and William O'Connor, the gay couple who say Stokes stepped in to defend them from homophobic abuse outside the club, did not testify in court but told ITV News Stokes had earned their undying gratitude.
"When I realised who he was fair play 'cos obviously he (Stokes) put his career on the line for someone he never knew," Barry said. "I'd say thank you definitely thank you for being there sorry for all the drama we landed you in but a lot of appreciation."
Stokes' England team-mate Jonny Bairstow, one of several players who were out with Stokes earlier that evening, said it was great news on both a personal and sporting front.
"I am really happy," he told Sky Sports. "It has been a long 10 months for him and his family."
"Hopefully we will see him back in an England shirt soon as we saw the impact he had at Edgbaston," added Bairstow, referring to Stokes taking four wickets in India's second innings, including the crucial one of Virat Kohli, as England won a tight first Test by 31 runs.
Stokes later earned a recall to the squad for the third Test, though the ECB statement will have been bittersweet for him and Hales.
"Now that the legal proceedings have concluded, the disciplinary process for Ben Stokes and Alex Hales can be scheduled by the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC)," read the statement.
"Considerable detail has been heard in this week-long court case and, in due course, there will be a range of matters for the Board to fully consider."
Both Stokes and Hales, though, can expect support from the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA).
"As with any of our members who face difficult situations we provide the appropriate assistance," it said in a statement. "We have been working with Ben and his legal team over the last 10 months and have provided our support throughout.
"The PCA will continue to provide that support to Ben and Alex Hales including during the disciplinary proceedings."
Agence France-Presse (AFP)