England selector Angus Fraser is hopeful of imminent clarity over Ben Stokes and his ongoing police investigation, but acknowledged that the situation is more important than purely having him play cricket again.
On Wednesday, Avon and Somerset Police said Stokes’ case was being passed onto the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as they sought charging advice. They also confirmed a 27-year-old suffered a fractured eye socket during the incident which took place on the evening of September 25.
The news came soon after Stokes had touched down in New Zealand, having been granted No Objection Certificate by the ECB last Friday to play domestic cricket while he remains unavailable for England duty. On Thursday, Canterbury announced the signing of Stokes as their overseas player. His first game will likely be on December 3 against Otago in the Ford Trophy domestic 50-over competition.
While the ECB were caught off-guard at how quickly Stokes cashed in his NOC, Fraser was hopeful regular cricket will ensure that, should the 26-year-old escape punishment, he will be fit for the current Ashes series, or the one-day internationals that commence mid-January.
“The news this week, I wouldn’t say it’s taken everyone by surprise,” Fraser told ESPNcricinfo. “But people are coming to terms with what’s happening and are prepared for every eventuality: the police investigation and the results of the police action. Then it moves onto the ECB. I suppose the fact is, when everything falls into line, then Ben is in a position to be able to play cricket, whether it’s in the Ashes or the one-day series that follows.”
Fraser was also keen to stress that the fact that England are in the midst of an Ashes series would not colour the judgement of selectors or others set to decide on Stokes’ future. “I think the most important thing is that the matter is dealt with correctly. We can all look at an Ashes series as extremely important, but the future health of the game is very important, too. The decisions that have to be made need to be the right ones not just for now but the for the game moving forward, too.”
The CPS will now decide on whether a charge will be brought upon Stokes and what it would be. The process could take anywhere between a couple of weeks and six months as they will seek a number of clarifications, although is expected to be at the shorter end of that timescale. They may even ask for evidence to be resubmitted before determining whether to prosecute, which could mean a decision on whether to press charges may only be made well into 2018.
Should the CPS opt not to bring charges then it will be down to the ECB’s own disciplinary committee to decide what action to take. Stokes has missed the two ODIs against the West Indies at the end of last summer, along with the first Test at Brisbane. It has been suggested that the ECB may backdate any punishment handed to Stokes – he will have missed at least two Test matches as well – potentially meaning an immediate return to international action once the charging decision is made.
However, Fraser admitted both he and the ECB are still unaware as to what exactly took place that fateful night in Bristol. Much of the ECB’s deliberation will be a fact-finding mission.