Darren Lehmann, Australia’s coach, has admitted that seeing footage of Ben Stokes allegedly involved in a street brawl in Bristol has been a “touchy” issue for him, in light of his memories of the incident in Melbourne 13 years ago when his friend and mentor David Hookes died after being punched to the ground by a hotel bouncer.
Speaking at the Hurstville Oval in Sydney, where he was watching Mitchell Starc’s return to action for New South Wales, Lehmann was reminded of the events of the fateful night in January 2004, when Hookes struck his head on the ground after being felled in an altercation in St Kilda, and suffered a cardiac arrest. He never regained consciousness.
“It’s happening all around the world, to be fair. Not just one incident,” Lehmann told The Sydney Morning Herald. “[We’ve] got to be careful with what we do outside, anywhere. It’s a touchy one for me.
“I can’t say much obviously, it’s with the ECB and I don’t know the whole story, no one does I don’t think. Really, it’s left with them and [we’ll] see what they do, but we can’t control what they do with Ben or any of their players.
“What we’ve got to worry about is getting our best XI to play really good cricket. At the end of the day, I have my personal views but at the moment, until I get the whole story, I’m not going to share them.”
Darren Berry, the former coach of South Australia, was another witness to the Hookes incident and last week admitted that the Bristol footage had brought back “horrific memories”. But Lehmann stopped short of comparing the two incidents and said it was not his job to tell the ECB what disciplinary measures should be taken against Stokes if the police choose to press charges against him.
But, asked how Stokes would be received by the Australian public if he made it onto the tour, Lehmann replied: “You’d have to ask the 25 million people in Australia. Me as the coach, I’ll probably stay away from that one as well. I think it will be interesting. We’ll only know if he comes and if he plays.”
England are currently the holders of the Ashes, after winning at home 3-2 in 2015. However, Australia inflicted a crushing 5-0 whitewash when the sides last met down under in 2013-14, and despite the possibility of their star allrounder missing out, Lehmann was counting no chickens ahead of the first Test at Brisbane on November 23.
“They’re obviously improved players,” he said. “Everyone is talking about four years ago or two years ago in England. We can’t worry about that.
“They’ve played some good cricket. They’re probably a bit like us, inconsistent at times. It’s going to be the team that withstands the pressure early on in the series [that has the edge]. Their younger guys will be under pressure, there’s no doubt about that, but same as our guys.”