From bullish to sheepish: Stokes nervy on the stand

Author
Laura Lambert of the Daily Mail,
Section
Cricket,
Publish Date
Friday, 10 August 2018, 9:54AM
Ben Stokes arrives at the Bristol Crown Court. Photo \ AP.
Ben Stokes arrives at the Bristol Crown Court. Photo \ AP.

As innings go, it was one of the most important in Ben Stokes's life. Shortly after 12:30pm on Thursday, while his England teammates waited for the rain to clear at Lord's, the all-rounder took a short walk, not through the Long Room but to the stand at Bristol Crown Court.

For the first time, on day four of his widely publicised trial for affray, Stokes had the chance to explain in minute detail what happened in the brawl that took place last September.

Not only was he out to convince the jury, but the ECB's director of communications Chris Haynes had also returned to court and listened intently throughout.

During his time in the witness box, which spanned just under three hours, Stokes displayed a sheepishness we have rarely seen in him.

Indeed, he relied more on the forward defensive than he does at the crease, batting away questions with a simple 'yes' or 'no' wherever possible and sipping at his water to calm his apparent nerves.

In total, he was asked more than 200 questions, and was stumped by just one.

When asked if he was 'enraged' at all during the evening in question, he told the jury: 'I find it a difficult question to answer.'

At times his answers were prefaced with an 'umm' or an 'urr', and he was seen wincing with pain in his back from standing for long periods — but there were also moments of lightness and humour.

Indeed, he gave a wry smile when the 'bright white hi-top' trainers he wore on the September evening were produced in court and held up for the judge.

When asked to tell the jury about the special feature they had, he replied: 'Gold padlock on the back,' before adding: 'I like them.' 'I get told from quite a lot of team-mates that I dress the worst in the team,' Stokes said, 'I'm used to it.'

In contrast to the ripped black jeans and green T-shirt he had worn that night, Stokes wore a dark blue suit, white shirt and bright blue tie for his appearance in court on Thursday.

As he has been throughout this week, Stokes was flanked by his wife, Clare, and his agent, Neil Fairbrother. Haynes and a lawyer from legal firm Onside Law made up the front row of the public gallery in courtroom one.

Stokes, the talisman of the England team, repeated on several occasions during his evidence that he was defending himself, England team-mate Alex Hales and two gay men, Kai Barry and William O'Connor, in the brawl outside a Bristol nightclub in the early hours of September 25, 2017.

He told the jury that the fight began when he heard 'homophobic' abuse being targeted at the gay couple from his co-defendant Ryan Ali and former soldier Ryan Hale, who was acquitted on Thursday before Stokes gave evidence.

Judge Peter Blair QC instructed the jury to find Hale not guilty of affray following his analysis of the evidence.

When asked if he had been homophobic towards Mr Barry and Mr O'Connor, Stokes said: 'No, definitely not.'

Footage was shown of him in handcuffs in the back of a police car, apparently mouthing something to Hales.

Asked what he could recall saying to the 29-year-old, who he described as a 'friend', Stokes told the jury: 'I was trying to tell him, "Leave, get out of here, don't get involved. I'm the one in the police car".' He added that he thought the exact words he was saying were: 'It's on me.'

Stokes will endure yet more time in the witness box on Friday, and the challenge he faces is likely to ramp up significantly when he faces cross-examination from the prosecution.

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