Stoking the Fire (Geddit?)
I know, I know, everyone has already written about the Ben Stokes and Alex Hales situation. But this is a monthly newsletter so you have to accept a little time lag while I spout my views on it.
Firstly, I mean, what complete and utter idiots.
Not so much for the actual punching itself: they were intoxicated, with impaired judgement and could reasonably have felt threatened by the other individuals involved. Idiots for being that drunk in public, let alone during the season, let alone during a live international series.
Could they not at least have done the old school Wayne Rooney style and just beaten up members of their own family at a private event?
Seriously, though, for me it’s the events leading up to the fracas that the England management can and should address. They must have a code of conduct to which staff must adhere, and that has to include clear parameters on being absolutely blindingly p*ssed in public. Probably fortunately for the other party, most of Stokes’ blows failed to land as he staggered about wildly, off balance and with questionable vision, judging from his movements. We can only hope that the damage he caused, both physical and mental, is minimal and short-lived.
I understand the ECB’s actions in not yet disciplining both Hales and Stokes, who are of course equally culpable up to the point where The Sun’s video footage commences. Allowing the dust to settle a little, sidestepping the question of Ashes selection, has allowed some of the media glare to subside.
Awaiting the final outcome of police proceedings and possible criminal action, though, is not viable in my opinion. The main reason for this is the sheer length of time it could take to get it all sorted out. If England take appropriate disciplinary action against the pair for their behaviour leading up to the brawl, it needs to be swift and severe enough that there are no calls for renewed workplace sanctions once any judicial process is completed.
Addressing the drinking and clubbing, then: of course these players are adults and they should be able to enjoy alcohol in moderation. As a teacher, when I accompany school trips I am allowed to make responsible decisions about how much alcohol I consume. However, being drunk would never be acceptable and would certainly lead to dismissal.
Sportspeople should be allowed to make responsible decisions about how much alcohol they consume. When they fail to do so, showing the lack of judgement that saw them staggering outside at 2.30am, unable to think of a way out of their verbal altercation without turning to fists, they must be sanctioned.
The whole thing has been complicated further by its timing before an Ashes series. If it was a two or three match series, in Sri Lanka or India, say, then perhaps it would be easier for the ECB to issue a suspension that covered the whole series.
I think it would be fair in this case to suspend Stokes and Hales for two test matches, three ODIs and one T20 each. It’s important to send a message across all formats of the game, not least because of the way Stokes’ and Hales’ reputations and earnings have come from limited overs cricket. Without wanting to sound sadistic, I think they owe atonement to each format.
Beyond that, I would like to see the pair fully available and selected if merited. The police investigation will continue and if they are charged then they should be allowed to keep playing, if timings allow, until any court proceedings are complete. I feel that employers should discipline their staff for their behaviour, here for breaking a presumed code of conduct (and if nothing else, bringing the game into disrepute), but not for their crimes.
I hope to see both Stokes and Hales playing again, and hope they will think again about how and where they choose to unwind.