They say cricket’s a funny game. The saying came about, largely, because of its unpredictability – how in the blink of an eye a team can go from being in complete control to having their backs against the wall.
Well, the same could be said for the administration of the sport across the world. Except for the fact that it’s not funny at all.
Ben Stokes was rushed back into England’s third Test side to play India this week having been found not guilty of affray despite clearly punching two men outside a nightclub in Bristol in September last year.
What sort of message is the England and Wales Cricket Board sending?
Yes, Stokes was forced to sit out an Ashes series while court action loomed and there will be plenty of people who will feel that’s punishment enough.
But don’t let the court’s verdict fool you.
Stokes was found not guilty of affray, with a lot of discussion in court based around what the definition of affray actually is.
Had he been charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, as police involved in the case wanted, the verdict could have been different.
What’s beyond doubt is that the ECB recalled an important player to their side at the earliest opportunity despite his behaviour in Bristol.
The ECB has caved in to Joe Root’s wishes to have Stokes back in the side rather than forcing the all-rounder to front them and answer some uncomfortable questions.
For the record, the Poms have had an awful time in this Test despite winning the first two matches of the series. Karma, perhaps.
Let’s compare this situation to that of Australia’s “sandpaper-gate” earlier this year.
Like everyone, I was appalled to see the conduct of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in South Africa and was initially happy to see the Australian Cricket Board come down hard.
But upon reflection, have we come down too hard, given cricketers on the sub-continent have got away with one-match bans for ball-tampering and the ECB’s apparent ambivalence to players punching on outside nightclubs. Smith, Warner and Bancroft have been banished to the cricketing equivalent of Timbuktu, plying their trade in places like Canada in recent months. Smith and Warner are banned from international and domestic cricket for 12 months, with Bancroft suspended for nine months for his role in the scandal.
You have to wonder what’s worse. Yes, they are guilty of extreme stupidity but I’d rather be a victim of stupidity than violence. Funny game, cricket.
Xavier Mardling is a Fairfax editor.