Ashley Giles, England’s director of men’s cricket, has warned that there is no easy way to protect the team’s star players from the heightened profile that comes with their summer’s successes, after a week in which Ben Stokes once again attracted media attention for all the wrong reasons.
Stokes was last week named as the PCA’s Player of the Year following his remarkable feats during the World Cup and Ashes. However, he was subsequently forced to rebut claims that he had assaulted his wife, Clare, during the PCA event, after paparazzi photos were published on a website showing him raising his hand to his wife’s face.
That incident followed the publication, last month, of a front-page story in The Sun, detailing a family tragedy that occurred in Stokes’ native New Zealand, three years before he was born.
Stokes has since launched legal proceedings against the newspaper, citing invasion of privacy. But, with England due to tour New Zealand next month (Stokes is missing the T20I leg but will be involved in the Tests), the issue is doubtless likely to resurface – not least because Stokes appears to have attained a level of interest to the tabloid press that matches his fellow England allrounder, Ian Botham, in the 1980s.
England are also due to make two trips to Australia in the next 24 months – a country that Stokes has not toured since missing the 2017-18 Ashes in the wake of his arrest in Bristol – and Giles admitted that the pressures that come at the very top of the game are far removed from those that he fleetingly experienced in 2005, as part of the last England team to truly capture the public’s imagination.
“I think everything is wrapped up for these guys now,” said Giles. “Success brings money, brings more pressures, and the pressures are certainly far different to what we experienced when we played.
“There’s a lot of good stuff there they get, but there’s also a lot of negative stuff. Part of my job is to protect them from that, but how exactly do you do that? I don’t know. You can’t always watch them or their families 24 hours a day. But we’re certainly there for them and player welfare and support is a big thing for us going forward.
“It’s just a worry, in some sense, how his profile can be used against him, and how susceptible they are as a family to this,” Giles added. “The bigger your profile the more difficult it can become.”
Within hours of the photos appearing on the Guido Fawkes website, Clare Stokes dismissed the story as “nonsense”, tweeting that that the pair had merely been “messing about” before leaving the event to get a “romantic McDonalds 20 mins later.”
“I spoke to both of them the other night,” said Giles. “I was pretty sure, as soon as I saw the story, there was nothing in it. They were obviously concerned because domestic violence is a really serious issue, and we’re not making light of that at all. But in this instance it’s a very happy couple having some fun, and a picture telling a thousand words, but just the wrong ones.”
Chris Silverwood, England’s newly appointed head coach, said that the PCA incident had been a “lesson for everybody”, adding that “innocent things can be taken out of context if you are not careful”. But he, like Giles, was satisfied that the issue had been taken out of context, and that the matter was now considered closed.
However, it is not merely Stokes who has been on the wrong end of some negative publicity in recent months. The England Lions duo, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Joe Clarke, were stood down from selection in the summer after their misdemeanours on social media came to light in the rape trial of a former team-mate, while Alex Hales was dropped from England’s World Cup squad after failing two tests for recreational drugs.
Giles, however, reiterated that the players would be given the chance to learn from their mistakes and be considered for selection again, just as Stokes has done post-Bristol, so long as they too demonstrate a willingness to buy into the team culture in the future.
“Yes, some [headlines] have been not so good, but I think we have to accept that they’re human beings and they’re going to make mistakes,” Giles said. “Ben has made mistakes in his past and we’ve seen how he can turn it around and we have to think that others who have made mistakes can do that also.
“We’ve always said it’s not the end of the line. But the culture bit is really important to us. We have to continue down that line because as we’ve seen with Australia and the scrutiny they fell under in South Africa [during the ball-tampering scandal], we don’t want to be putting ourselves in that position. So it takes constant, consistent short-term checks to make sure we are functioning in the right way.”
Asked whether he felt that Silverwood had it in him to make the tough decisions if challenged to do so in the future, Giles insisted that his new appointment had hidden qualities beneath his placid demeanour.
“I think there’s a steeliness that don’t you particularly want to cross as a player,” Giles said. “I think the hairdryer treatment is a bit dated but one of the things that’s impressed me about him from what I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to is the way he manages people.
“It’s clear at Essex, you just need to look at that dressing-room and the different personalities – Alastair Cook to Ravi Bopara and others in between. But each of them only has good things to say about his style. I think it bodes well.
“He’s a good man with solid values and I’m pleased the right man is English because it helps break that cycle we were in where we couldn’t employ an English coach and I think we’ve got a good one here.”