English cricket will be forced to revisit the ugly scenes in Bristol the game would dearly love to consign to history on Wednesday, when Ben Stokes and Alex Hales face a disciplinary commission that could lead to long-term suspensions.
Each man must answer two counts of bringing the game into disrepute at a London hearing to investigate their roles in the brawl outside a nightclub in the early hours that led to Stokes facing criminal charges.
Stokes, England’s erstwhile vice-captain was found not guilty of affray at Bristol Crown Court, but now his immediate future and that of Hales, who was with him on that fateful evening, are in the hands of an independent panel.
Ben Stokes will face a disciplinary commission at a hearing in London on Thursday
Batsman Alex Hales is also facing a charge of bringing the game into disrepute
Former Derbyshire batsman Tim O’Gorman – now a respected lawyer and the panel chairman – former Gloucestershire seamer Mike Smith, an employment lawyer, and judge Chris Tickle, a long-serving Warwickshire committee member, make up the Cricket Disciplinary Commission panel and have the power to ban, fine or reprimand the pair.
That means Stokes, who has always claimed he acted in self-defence during an altercation with two men, and Hales, who escaped any criminal charges, must again explain what they were doing at Bristol’s Mbargo club at 2.30am in the middle of a one-day series against West Indies in September 2017.
The whole affair has been a cloud over English cricket ever since the night when the friends went out, along with other team-mates, to celebrate victory in the third one-day international at Bristol.
Stokes, and his supporters, are pinning their hopes of a lenient verdict on the fact that he missed the whole of the Ashes series because of the incident.
The whole affair has been a cloud over English cricket since the night they went out in Bristol
England’s erstwhile vice-captain Stokes was found not guilty of affray at Bristol Crown Court
Certainly, the England coach Trevor Bayliss spoke for the whole squad when he said after the 3-0 victory over Sri Lanka in Colombo last week that he very much hoped Stokes would be cleared to tour the Caribbean early next year.
Stokes has never lost the support of team-mates and coaching staff, who apparently accept he was defending two gay men when he became embroiled in a punch-up with Ryan Hale and Ryan Ali.
Stokes and his legal team will need to explain how he became involved at such a late hour when he was on international duty.
Hales’s role will also come under scrutiny as the only price he has paid so far has been to miss the last two one-day internationals of that 2017 series and lose his 50-over place to Jason Roy as a consequence.
Not only will Stokes have to defend his behaviour that night in Bristol, but also for appearing to mock the disabled son of television personality Katie Price in social-media footage that emerged after the brawl. Hales, too, faces a second charge pertaining to his use of social media.
Stokes has never lost the support of team-mates and coaching staff and starred in Sri Lanka
Stokes will hope for a lenient verdict on the fact that he missed the whole of last winter’s Ashes
The pair still have much to explain. Stokes, for example, admitted in court he had drunk more than 10 alcoholic drinks midway through a series where he was acting as vice-captain.
There was no curfew in place but it is still astonishing that Stokes and Hales, together with several other members of the team, were out drinking in a student area of Bristol at such a late hour.
Other players have been fined for being out so late and warned as to their future conduct, but, crucially, they did not get involved in the physical altercations that shamed the game.
Stokes has never shown any sign of remorse or regret for his involvement even though Bayliss, his biggest supporter, has said he expects him to make a full and public apology.
Hales, meanwhile, was said in court to have ‘kicked and stamped’ on a man even though he was never charged nor called as a witness in the subsequent affray case against Stokes.
It would be no surprise if Stokes and Hales were forced to serve a ban for the incident
Remarkably, only fast bowler Jake Ball offered a witness support statement to Stokes during the trial.
Hales also told police he arrived at the scene after the incident had taken place but subsequent video footage published by The Sun newspaper showed he was there throughout.
This correspondent has always considered the behaviour of both men to be unacceptable and was fully behind the decision to suspend Stokes for the Ashes.
I also thought it wrong that he was rushed back with indecent haste against India at Trent Bridge last summer immediately after he was cleared in court.
It is unfortunate it has taken the Cricket Disciplinary Commission so long to organise this hearing, which will take place on Wednesday and Friday, but now it is finally happening the players must face the full consequences of their actions.
Both the players and the ECB who, not without irony, are holding their Christmas party on Friday when the verdicts are expected, can appeal against any punishment but Stokes will be risking his Ashes place again if he appeals against any possible ban for the three-Test series against West Indies.
The absence of Stokes in the Ashes is definitely a mitigating factor but it would be no surprise if both he and Hales were forced to serve a suspension.
Additional reporting: Laura Lambert