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England’s Ben Stokes says bar-brawl saga “could be best thing to happen to me”

Ben Stokes believes the late-night incident in Bristol and its subsequent fall-out “could be the best thing that has happened to me”.

Of course, Stokes would much rather the episode he was engaged in at 2.30am then found himself on trial for affray before being cleared of all charges, had not happened at all. But it did and, in a searingly honest conversation with Mirror Sport, during his time at the Indian Premier League for Rajasthan Royals, the England all-rounder looked back on the last 18 months with maturity and clarity.

And you can understand when he says it might all be for the better in the end.

Stokes has already taken a step forward in terms of his professionalism, his fitness and his attitude to going ‘out-out’, which will clearly benefit him and English cricket.

It is benefitting others too, not least the rescued child labourers who have been trafficked in Jaipur and who Stokes is supporting through the British Asian Trust.

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Stokes ended up being tried at Bristol Crown Court on affray charges

The 27-year-old all-rounder is a picture of health and happiness when we meet the day after he helped the Royals to their first win of the 2019 IPL with team-mate Jos Buttler the star of the show. And with so much cricket to look forward to in 2019 with the World Cup and Ashes to come, the fact that Stokes might have missed it all is not lost on him.

He said: “People have asked whether the whole episode makes you appreciate what you have even more. But the answer is no, because I’ve always known how special it is. But it must be a subconscious thing that I was that close to my career ending and being thrown away just like that, maybe that is it. Thinking all this is going to be taken away from me.

“That might be the thing that has changed the way I do things. It sounds silly, but could Bristol have been the best thing that could have happened to me? Who knows, it could have been something else, but just in terms of my way of thinking.

“Nothing good happens after midnight. I still go out, but if you mean going ‘out out’? I don’t go ‘out out’ any more. I used to love going out and celebrating with the lads, but we can do that in the hotel and I don’t miss it.

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England opted not to select Stokes during the case, meaning he missed the last Ashes series

“There are people ready to target you everywhere you go. I prefer sitting in and chatting absolute nonsense with my team-mates.”

These are the loyal team-mates he apologised to when he returned to the game in New Zealand and who rallied round him throughout the trial that he describes as the toughest two weeks of his life.

He admits now it was the right call for him not to be a part of the Ashes, but he also thinks that maybe he should not have played a Test at Trent Bridge immediately after the trial.

“The trial was a tough week and then everything after it too,” he added. “I’d say it was the toughest two weeks of my life. When it finished, I thought that was going to be it. I thought I was going to be so happy it is done, it is over and that is it, but nah.

“Walking out at Trent Bridge was absolutely awful. All I could hear were boos. Even if there weren’t any. It was a dreadful, dreadful week.

“Looking back on it now, I should have told Rooty, ‘I can’t play this week’, but I thought getting back in and around the lads and playing would have distracted me. But I carried that week into the game with me. I shouldn’t have played.”

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Older and wiser, Stokes is preparing for this summer's World Cup and Ashes in the IPL

Stokes is looking to the future now and is somewhere near his best again.

Like every sportsman, it is about the next game, the next innings, the next ball, but he also knows he can’t escape his past. All he can do is use it as positively as possible.

He added: “You’re an international sportsman and people see you do that. I totally understand it and it is hugely regrettable, but I can’t take it back because it happened.

“No matter what happens in life with me now, that will always be there and I’ll always carry it, but I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who had a fight in the street. I want to do things on the field to be remembered for.

“If we win the World Cup, that becomes the first paragraph.”

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