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Stokes Deserves Sympathy

Stokes Deserves Sympathy

A couple of weeks, back a video of Ben Stokes’ alleged brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol appeared on the internet, and social media's collective voice didn't waste any time in announcing its swift verdict. As is often the case with such incidents, there was no restraint in passing a judgement before the entire story became clear.

Within hours, you had a majority camp censuring the 26-year old all-rounder for his unbecoming behaviour as an international cricketer and a minority camp (which also included ex-English off-spinner, Graeme Swann) that lauded him for allegedly standing up against a hooligan who had apparently instigated Stokes first.

Pictures are a powerful and compelling medium and yet there are times when pictures and videos can be presented in certain ways to manipulate your opinion. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words but there can be many angles of the same picture, each taken at different instances, which will each point to a different story in different words.

 CCTV vision was emerged of Ben Stokes incident in Bristol Street

CCTV vision was emerged of Ben Stokes incident in Bristol Street

At times like these, I am often reminded of the movie 12 Angry Men, where 12 jurors sit in a room to deliberate the case of an 18-year old slum dweller who is accused of stabbing his father to death. With all evidence and eyewitness accounts stacked against the boy, the jury is keen on passing a swift judgement and go back to their lives when juror 8 played by Henry Fonda hangs the jury by pronouncing the boy “not-guilty” and requests them to reconsider all facts again till they can establish without any doubt that the boy is guilty.

As different angles of the story emerge, each juror one by one turns his verdict from “guilty” to “not-guilty” in light of new deductions and the jury ends up unanimously acquitting the boy.

Social media and the media in general these days, is a case of 12 Angry Men scaled up to millions of jurors. Everyone is looking to pass swift judgments and there is no Henry Fonda in sight to make them reconsider their decisions. Not that anyone is ever going to listen to the other side of the story anyhow - you’re either with them or against them and there is no middle ground.

There is no denying the fact that Ben Stokes has committed mistakes. England’s original controversy child Ian Botham himself weighed in on the issue as he suggested, “You cannot be wandering the streets at 2.30 AM”.

Fair point from Beefy. So at the moment the only sin we can accuse Stokes of is being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Beyond that, despite how brutal the pictures appear, unless one knows what preceded the incident, all judgments should be reserved. There are already suggestions that Stokes was trying to defend some guys and those who were targets of his assault had threatened to attack first with a bottle. We will know more when investigation reports come out and the law will take its course on the issue but there is no reason for us to label Stokes and jeopardize a stellar career.

Barroom brawls are never pretty but sadly they are commonplace on streets of UK. Many consider drinking itself a social stigma and a major health hazard for good reasons. Would Ben Stokes have been better off not getting into collision course at the nightclub? Certainly. Probably, he is even better off not stepping out so late at night, or heck, by giving up on alcohol altogether.

But despite possessing superhuman abilities as an elite athlete, he is also a product of the same flawed society that you and I function in. He is a role model, yes, but he is going to have some flaws of his own which he may work on, improve on, learn from or pay for. He will fall down, he may get back up and we, as spectators of the game, should admire, appreciate or admonish him with what he does on the field whenever he gets a chance. Cricket is richer for having humans with personalities instead of robots that have all been shaped from the same mould under the pressure of expectations.

In this whole saga, Stokes may or may not be guilty of misconduct, but this surely is a make or break moment for him. We have seen cricketers in the past falling off the road due to a lack of support from cricket boards or their own loved ones, or an inability to overcome their addictions. Cricketers like Andrew Symonds and Jessie Ryder had their careers cut short due to non-cricketing reasons while Ricky Ponting came back strongly from such controversies.

 Andrew Symonds and Jessie Ryder had their careers cut short due to non-cricketing reasons. Lets hope Stokes is not next.

Andrew Symonds and Jessie Ryder had their careers cut short due to non-cricketing reasons. Lets hope Stokes is not next.

Ponting was already hailed as probably the best after Don Bradman when in 1999 he got into a brawl and got a black eye to show for it. Ponting vowed never to repeat the incident again and charted an immensely successful career. In short, Stokes needs to be more Ponting and less like Ryder. The outcome will depend on how much England cricket board; fans and his own personal support system stand by him.

It may sound far-fetched but despite being worth millions of dollars, celebrities too deserve our sympathies at times, especially in this day and age of media scrutiny and instant judgments. Ian Botham for his part once had a famous spat with Ian Chappell in a bar where he claims to have sent the Aussie flying backwards with a punch. He turned up sleep-deprived and drunk every day of the famed Jubilee tests in 1980 yet scored a hundred and picked up 13 wickets. He admitted to smoking cannabis during the 1984 New Zealand tour and got banned for two months. He paid his dues and continued to play, thrive and even brag about some of those escapades after his retirement. Perhaps Stokes might not become the next Botham without making some mistakes of his own, paying the price and standing back up on his feet.