IF YOU’RE a member of the hang ‘em, flog ‘em brigade, look away now...
For Ben Stokes, in my opinion, has been punished enough.
He missed the whole of the Ashes series last winter.
His reputation has been dragged through the mud.
He has endured a very gruelling and public trial.
Some would say that it is no more than he deserves after his involvement in a street fight in Bristol last September.
One of the ugliest episodes in England’s cricketing history is not going to go away and already serves as a punishment to Stokes and a warning to others.Chris Waters
But the fact is that Stokes was today cleared of affray in a court of law, and the court of public opinion – and his employers at the England and Wales Cricket Board – should now give him a break and allow him to move on with the rest of his life.
Although the criminal trial is over, the cricketing one, as it were, has yet to begin.
The ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission will now sit in judgment of Stokes and Alex Hales, who was also involved on that fateful night, at a date to be determined.
The CDC has a range of penalties available, including, in the governing body’s own words, caution as to future conduct; reprimand; fine without limit; suspension of eligibility to play in any match(es) or for any fixed period; and suspension (for any period) or termination of registration.
In other words, if it wants to throw the book at Stokes then it certainly has the power to do so.
But rather than take such a course of action, I think that there needs to be a recognition of what Stokes has already been through now for almost a year.
What sense is there – other than in being seen to send out some sort of message – in kicking a man when he is down on his knees (no pun intended)?
In my view, that message was sent out a long time ago anyway and is clearly understood: namely, that you cannot behave as Stokes did and expect to get away with it, regardless of any not guilty outcome.
You cannot get into bother outside nightclubs in the early hours of the morning, for whatever reason, or assume that someone will not be filming proceedings before passing it on to the tabloid press.
One of the ugliest episodes in England’s cricketing history is not going to go away and already serves as a punishment to Stokes and a warning to others.
It will not be blithely shrugged off and conveniently forgotten if the CDC, as I believe that it should, look kindly now on Stokes’s plight.
We already live in a world in which compassion is in short supply and, for all his wealth and status, we should remember that Stokes is a young man of 27.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, as it were, and then look themselves in the mirror and ask whether this young man has not already suffered sufficiently.
That is not to excuse Stokes from the broader charge of putting himself into that position, which any sportsman now would surely be loathe to do.
But a sense of perspective is sorely required – not further sanctions for the benefit of any wider public gallery, particularly the one that is present on social media.
Quite frankly, I found it a depressing experience to follow Stokes’s trial, even from a distance. The details were distasteful, the video footage – still fresh in the mind – replayed over and over once more on countless news bulletins.
That footage showed graphic fighting in which Stokes was involved.
No one emerged from the business with credit.
And yet, and yet…
There was an impressive moment today when Stokes offered his hand to Ryan Ali, his co-defendant, in the witness box.
Ali shook it, and they went their separate ways.
That, I would suggest, is the best way to bring an end to this matter.
Except for Stokes, his family and everyone involved, the events of September 25, 2017, will never really end, but follow them all for the rest of their lives.