Joe Root and England still ‘in the dark’ over Ben Stokes

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Joe Root’s England are still “completely in the dark” about Ben Stokes’ Ashes prospects despite the latest revelation about the all-rounder’s arrest.

In just under 48 hours since Root last spoke about one of English cricket’s most vexed topics of recent years, he has switched hemispheres and arrived down under with a 16-man squad – minus Stokes – at the start of his maiden Ashes series as captain.

But between Friday’s departure press conference in London and Root’s arrival salvo in Perth on Sunday afternoon local time, a new twist in the tale has emerged.

Two gay men claimed in a Sun interview Stokes was defending them from homophobic abuse when he was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm after a disorder outside a Bristol nightclub in the early hours of September 25.

Billy O’Connell and Kai Barry described Stokes, respectively, as a “hero” and a “gentleman” for helping them. England’s mercurial match-winner is nonetheless currently absent from the tourists’ plans in Australia.

Stokes is still under investigation by Avon & Somerset Police, despite being released without any charge as yet – and following last month’s events, he and one-day international opener Alex Hales are not under consideration for selection until further notice by the England and Wales Cricket Board, pending a Cricket Discipline Commission inquiry.

As for Root, the small matter of 9,000 air miles changed nothing about the line of questioning he faced as the Australian media took their first opportunity to quiz him – and he duly diverted only marginally from previous remarks.

“As a friend, I hope (this) can be good news for Ben,” he said. “But the reality of it all is we’ve all got to wait and see … we’ve got to plan as if he’s not going to be here.

“In terms of the criminal investigation, we have to let the police get on with that. (Then) there’ll be an internal investigation that follows. We’re completely in the dark as to what’s going to happen.”

Root’s opening address as captain on Australian soil was inevitably overshadowed by the Stokes saga – but as the next surefire topic veered from pre-series pronouncements towards the spectre of sledging, footnote or not, he had a positive spin.

“There’s always a psychological edge to the Ashes … I’m sure there’ll be plenty of banter flying around on and off the field,” said the Yorkshireman. “I just try to be myself, and (enjoy) what’s such a great tour to be involved in.

“That’s something you’ve got to cherish and relish, and be able to look back on at the end of your career and say, ‘I gave it my best shot’. You don’t get chance to play here very often, so I think it’s really important you try to make the most of it.”

Root did not miss his cue either on another Ashes favourite – past players and pundits writing off the tourists – with an element of selective memory along the way.

He added: “That drives us and motivates us to prove them wrong. We’re very confident. We’ve got very good experienced players that have been here and won before – and some very young, exciting players that are desperate to prove to everyone how good they are.

“I think we’re a completely different side to the last time we came here.”

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