Ben Stokes and Alex Hales prepare to revisit events of Bristol as ECB hearing begins

English cricket could be forgiven for feeling as if the Ghost of Christmas Past was visiting over the next few days.
Events that the game may well have wanted to put behind it – notably, the late-night brawl involving Ben Stokes and Alex Hales in Bristol in September 2017 – will be dragged up once again as the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) considers whether Hales and Stokes have brought the game into disrepute.
There is no doubt it has been an ugly episode for the game and the individuals involved. Footage of high-profile players involved in a fight and the headlines that followed – headlines that alleged homophobic bullying, among other things – certainly showed the game in an unflattering light. And, coming at a time when the ECB are keen to underline their credentials as a family sport, they were damaging in every way. At first glance it may seem a straightforward case.
But first glances are sometimes misleading and this case is not as straightforward as is sometimes presumed. For a start, Stokes has already been cleared of the charge of affray at Bristol Crown Court and looks set to remain insistent that, apart from staying out later than was wise, he has done very little wrong.
For that reason, the CDC – which claims to be an entity independent of influence from the ECB or beyond – has assembled an especially experienced panel and permitted legal representation for the players; something it says it will do only in “the most exceptional case” in its own regulations.
The three-man panel comprises three highly-respected lawyers with a cricket background: former Derbyshire batsman, Tim O’Gorman, who is now general counsel for Halfords Group and chairs this panel; former Gloucestershire and England swing bowler Mike Smith, who is now an employment lawyer, and the judge, Chris Tickle, who was a long-time member of the Warwickshire committee.
They will hear the case – brought by the ECB (it is an irony that the ECB’s favoured law firm, On Side, will act as the prosecution, having sat in on Stokes’ trial in a supportive role) with the players’ legal teams providing the defence. While the court case was conducted in public, the CDC hearing will be conducted behind closed doors with no access for media.