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Stokes pleads not guilty to affray charge

England cricketer heading to New Zealand to link up with team while awaiting trial after entering not guilty plea at Bristol Magistrates' Court

UPDATE

Ben Stokes will fly to New Zealand on Wednesday to link up with England's T20 squad in Hamilton ahead of their next fixture, against the Black Caps on Sunday, the ECB announced tonight.

Stokes had earlier appeared in Bristol Magistrates' Court where he pleaded not guilty to one count of affray, citing self-defence, with a first hearing date for his trial set for March 12. That date falls between England's white and red-ball commitments in New Zealand, and the allrounder will not be required to attend the Bristol Crown Court in person.

"Having entered his plea at Bristol Magistrates' Court today, Ben Stokes will now travel to New Zealand to join the England squad," said an ECB spokesperson.

"He departs tomorrow, Wednesday 14 February, and will arrive on Friday 16 February, ready to train with England teammates in Hamilton.

"Any decision to include him in upcoming matches will be made by Head Coach Trevor Bayliss and the England management team. He is not currently being considered for the ongoing International T20 Tri-Series.

"ECB fully respects his right to defend himself in court and any obligations he has within the legal process will always take precedence over England commitments.

"It has been confirmed that he will not be required to return to the UK for the first hearing at Bristol Crown Court on Monday 12 March."

EARLIER

England allrounder Ben Stokes has pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray in connection to an incident outside a Bristol nightclub, citing self-defence, and now faces a trial in mid-March.

Stokes, 26, appeared in the dock at the Bristol Magistrates' Court alongside Ryan Hale, 26, and Ryan Ali, 28. All three men faced one count of affray in relation to an incident on Queens Road in Bristol in the early hours of September 25, and all entered pleas of not guilty.

The charges read out in court said each of the accused had "used or threatened unlawful violence towards another and your conduct was such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their personal safety".

Each of the defendants entered a not guilty plea on the basis of self-defence. The case was referred to the Bristol Crown Court, with a trial date set for March 12.

They were all released on unconditional bail until the trial. The court appearance lasted approximately 30 minutes. 

In a statement posted on Twitter last month after he was charged, Stokes said he was "keen to have an opportunity to clear my name".

England will play at least one T20 and five ODIs before Stokes' trial date. Their next fixture is a T20 match in New Zealand on Sunday. Winless after three matches they remain an outside chance to make the T20 tri-series final on February 21. 

England then play five ODIs against New Zealand starting February 25, the last of which is held on March 10. England's first of two Tests against New Zealand starts on March 22, 10 days after the scheduled start of Stokes' trial. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board cleared Stokes to return to the national team in mid-January when he was charged with affray. 

"Given the (Crown Prosecution Service) decision to charge him and two others with affray, confirmation of his intention to contest the charge and the potential length of time to trial, the Board agreed that it would not be fair, reasonable or proportionate for Ben Stokes to remain unavailable for a further indeterminate period," the ECB said in a January 17 statement.

"To date, Stokes has been unavailable for selection throughout the Police and CPS process around the incident in Bristol in September, a period which has included ODIs against West Indies, the Ashes tour and the start of the ODI series against Australia.

"ECB fully respects the legal process and the player’s intention to defend himself against the charge."

England had expected Stokes to join the squad in New Zealand for the second-half of the T20 tri-series, but that plan was scuppered almost immediately when the allrounder's magistrates court date was announced.

It remains to be seen whether Stokes will link up with the ODI squad in New Zealand, or will remain sidelined until after his date in the Bristol Crown Court.

Regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings, Stokes – and England teammate Alex Hales, who has resumed his international career – will still face an internal disciplinary process.

"ECB confirmed in December that the independent Cricket Discipline Commission would stay the internal disciplinary process for both Alex Hales and Ben Stokes until the conclusion of court proceedings relating to the incident," the ECB statement said.

Stoles is due to play in the Indian Premier League after being sold for A$2.4 million to the Rajasthan Royals.