Stokes survives Ashes axe despite nightclub incident
BEN Stokes is set to be marched to anger management classes and may still be dead man walking in his role as England's Ashes vice-captain as the fallout continues from his bar fight disgrace.
The shamed all-rounder inexplicably survived a stay of execution as Joe Root's deputy, but there is enormous pressure on the ECB to wield the axe once their investigations are complete into a brawl which left Stokes nursing a fractured hand and another man hospitalised with facial injuries.
Stokes is enormously lucky that the fracture to the pinky finger on his right hand is minor and won't keep him out of the first Test at the Gabba on November 23, but his reckless behaviour slammed as "unprofessional" by coach Trevor Bayliss has made his position as England's second in command close to untenable.
Reports out of the UK suggested serial bad boy Stokes will be ordered to seek anger management counselling, red rag to a ball for Aussie sledgers.
ECB director of cricket Andrew Strauss took the soft option and named Stokes vice-captain in a 16-man Ashes squad featuring 11 players with no experience against Australia, including uncapped leg-spinner Mason Crane who played a game for NSW last Sheffield Shield season.
There is still a possibility Stokes could be charged by police with causing actual bodily harm as authorities urgently seek further information from the public, and if that happens the 26-year-old may be summonsed to front court during the summer Ashes series.
In the meantime, the ECB is interviewing players as part of its own exhaustive internal investigation into the incident that had Stokes, Alex Hales and potentially other teammates out late drinking two days before an ODI against the West Indies.
Strauss is under the pump to enforce hard-line disciplinary standards on a troubled star who has been embroiled in late-night incidents too many times before.
As it stands, England's lack of action against Stokes looks embarrassing compared to the swift action taken by Cricket Australia and James Sutherland back in 2013 when David Warner was caught up in a comparatively minor nightclub scuffle with England counterpart Root.
Warner was thrust in front of the media to apologise, was fined $11,500 and was effectively banished from the first two Tests of the series after being sent to South Africa to play for Australia A.
Former England opener Strauss is known as a man of process, and is understood to be affording Stokes the presumption of innocence until he has the information he needs to make a final call.
"My instinct is to treat players like adults on and off the field," Strauss told Sky Sports.
"That kind of attitude creates a harmonious environment, which actually enables performance.
"That philosophy is a sound one. Obviously when things like this happen you have to step back and ask 'are we doing this right'?
"We've got nothing to hide here. We're absolutely certain that we don't want to see these sort of incidents happen in the future."
Stokes is one of the world's premier cricketers but his reputation for brain explosions on and off the field precedes him, and Australia will have a target on his head this summer.
The all-rounder is only one on-field slip-up away from being banned for an Ashes Test and Australia are certain to push the boundaries in sledging and provocation.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan demanded Stokes "look himself in the mirror".
"The facts are the England vice-captain was out at 2.30am, drinking two days before an England game and he has hit someone," Vaughan wrote in The Telegraph.
"What this has done is cast a massive shadow over the England team at the worst time ... he could be charged.
"In Australia, he will be goaded from the moment he arrives."
The ECB made no mention of Stokes' status in their official squad release, instead focusing on the naming of three uncapped players, wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, fast bowler Craig Overton and NSW-trained Crane.
Just like Australia, England's weakness is their batting with the presence of Mark Stoneman and James Vince in the top three looks vulnerable.
If Stokes survives as a team leader it has the potential to cause angst amongst the England ranks if players feel their superstar game-breaker is being afforded preferential treatment.
Stokes was named Root's vice-captain earlier this year despite a long list of prior off-field indiscretions that have included him being arrested over a late night incident in 2012 and sent home from a tour for late night drinking in 2013.
ENGLAND SQUAD: Joe Root (capt), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Balance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes