Ben Stokes: Should he be allowed to play without formal punishment?

England & West Indies Nets Session
Ben Stokes made his return to international cricket against New Zealand on Sunday

Ben Stokes, one of cricket's most talented and exciting cricketers, returned to international cricket on 25 February 2018 after spending 5 months out of the game. Everyone is delighted to see him bludgeoning the best bowlers in the world out of the park once more.

However, considering the circumstances of his exclusion from international cricket, the lack of responsibility taken, and the absence of an official punishment from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the question I want to pose is – should we be happy?

Stokes has not played for nearly half a year due to a violent incident outside of a nightclub. Videos emerged online of Stokes punching two men repeatedly in a drunken altercation outside a nightclub in Bristol, just two days before England's squad was announced for the Ashes. Stokes was still included in the squad.

Before the ODI series began against New Zealand, Trevor Bayliss reiterated how keen they were to get Stokes back on the field as quickly as possible. Jos Buttler said after the game that Stokes was brilliant and that, "It is fantastic to have him back in all three facets of the game."

Some may argue that Stokes' omission from the Ashes was punishment. However, the ECB declared that Stokes was to miss the ashes due to the impending investigation and that when the investigation is over, assuming charges are not brought to him, he will be available again for selection.

Stokes missed out due to legal proceedings, and a lack of clarity around the situation. This is not the same as a punishment. The ECB cannot simply 'kill two birds with one stone' on this issue.

Statements coming out of the ECB have avoided any discussion about the moral suitability of Ben Stokes' return to the squad. They have focused on Stokes' ability, and their determination to get him back into the international arena.

This is not a loud and clear statement of the ethics and behaviour the ECB expects from those representing their national team. Back in 2013, David Warner threw a punch at England's current skipper, Joe Root. It is said the punch only partially connected, the police were not involved, there was no investigation and there were no videos online.

Warner was made to publicly apologize, was fined £7,000, and missed the rest of Australia's ICC Champions Trophy campaign as well as the warm-up matches of the Ashes.

David Warner - now nicknamed 'the reverend', and recently elevated to vice-captain has admitted that "It was definitely pivotal in becoming the person I am today and not just the cricketer." Australia's clear punishment forced Warner to take responsibility and grow into an outstanding cricketer

With the ECB and Ben Stokes, it seems to be a decidedly more slippery and calculated operation to get Stokes back on the cricket pitch as soon as possible.

Cricket is entertainment, a way to inspire people, excitedly watched and emulated by young children across the globe. The 'win at all costs' culture has been pervasive since the hyper-professionalization of the sport that has taken place over the last few decades. We must remember that cricketers have a platform, are role-models and are emulated.

Being good at cricket does not reduce Stokes' moral responsibility. It doesn't counterweigh what he did and it doesn't heal black eyes. I believe Stokes should be back playing cricket again soon, but only after the ECB set out a clear punishment thereby setting a precedent.

Stokes also needs to reassure his fans that he understands the gravity and unacceptability of his actions. The ECB and Ben Stokes have so far ducked their moral responsibility and set a worrying example.

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