The career of England cricket team vice-captain Ben Stokes might quite literally rise from the Ashes.
Two gay men have come forward and claimed the all-rounder was defending them from homophobic abuse when he was arrested following an altercation outside a Bristol nightclub.
Kai Barry, 26, and Billy O’Connell, 20, told London’s Sun newspaper Stokes came to their aid by standing up to threatening bullies.
Stokes was arrested in September on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm and released without charge but remains under police investigation.
The 26-year-old, who also suffered a broken finger, will not be with the rest of England’s Ashes squad who arrive in Perth tomorrow, having been suspended following the incident.
Damaging footage emerged that showed Stokes fighting with two men, throwing a flurry of punches and ultimately knocking one man — since identified as ex-soldier Ryan Hale — to the ground, requiring a hospital visit.
Barry and O’Connell say they were partying with Stokes, who was buying them drinks, on the night of the incident.
They claim to have been subjected to homophobic abuse throughout the night — and that the situation turned more aggressive once they left the Mbargo nightclub to find another late-night venue, with a group of men allegedly focusing their attention on Barry.
“They’ve seen me thinking they’re big men because I’m a little gay boy. We had no argument with them,” Barry told the Sun.
“When the fight happened it came out of nowhere. I’m not a violent person. And that’s probably why Ben Stokes stood up for me.”
Barry says his top was ripped in the ensuing melee, with CCTV footage showing Stokes disarmed a man who was holding a glass bottle as the fight escalated.
“We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero,” O’Connell said.
“Kai feared he could be attacked. If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.”
The pair, who fled the scene as the fight escalated to a “takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips”, are hopeful Stokes can feature in the Ashes, which start at the Gabba on November 23.
“Ben is a really nice guy and I hope he can still play for England in the Ashes. It would be awful his career was ruined over this,” O’Connell said.
“He was just trying to help defend Kai.”