Ben Stokes fight footage raises sensitive issues for Australia coach Darren Lehmann

Last updated 07:28 07/10/2017

Australia head coach Darren Lehmann.

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For obvious reasons, the confronting footage that is almost certain to cancel the Ashes tour of England vice-captain Ben Stokes doesn't sit well with Darren Lehmann.

After all, the Australian coach was with David Hookes on the night outside a Melbourne pub 13 years ago when his great mate and mentor was punched to the ground by a hotel bouncer and died.

The release last week of video purporting to show Stokes brawling on a street and knocking another man to the ground had an immediate effect on another ex-player who was with Hookes when he was fatally king-hit, with former Victoria captain Darren Berry saying it had brought back "horrific memories".

The consequences of the violence that erupted outside a nightclub in Bristol did not extent beyond some facial injuries and a visit to hospital but the incident involving the England all-rounder also clearly struck close to home for Lehmann.

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The Hookes tragedy changed his life and with the Ashes quickly approaching Lehmann was asked on Friday about the Stokes fight. He does not see it as his position to tell the England and Wales Cricket Board how to react in terms of any disciplinary measures against the 26-year-old - nor did he compare the Stokes incident to the death of Hookes - but for Australia's coach it is sensitive subject matter.

"It's happening all around the world, to be fair. Not just one incident," Lehmann said as he watched the return of fast bowler Mitchell Starc for New South Wales in the JLT Cup at Hurstville Oval in Sydney.

"[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."

Reports out of England on Friday suggested Stokes would be suspended for the Ashes as well as possibly the one-day series here that will follow the five-test summer. 

Asked how it would be received in Australia if he did make it out for the Ashes, 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."

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The absence of Stokes this summer looms as a major factor. He would be a huge loss for England but Lehmann said the tourists would not be underestimated no matter who emerged from the plane from London later this month.

"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."

Lehmann handed the keys to the Australian team to assistant coach David Saker for the limited-overs tour of India, where Steve Smith's side were beaten 4-1 in the one-day series.

The coach said Australia had several selection issues to settle before the first test starting on November 23, chiefly whether Matthew Wade would be retained as wicketkeeper and who would begin the series at No.6.

- Sydney Morning Herald


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