After Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and, more recently, Ben Duckett made headlines for incidents on night outs, the inevitable question has been raised by all media and fans....is there a drinking culture within the England camp?
It's an easy question which people in comfy chairs sitting in front of blank article spaces have been quick to ask after recurring events in bars and poor performances in Australia.
There's no doubt the players enjoy a drink when they're off duty. As with anyone, when you're under such high pressure with so many expectations from large crowds, then a requirement to blow off steam is justified. We are human after all.
However, to single out the English cricket team is wrong. It's not a subculture specific to cricket and it's not fair to brand it as a problem on the players within the squad.
Drinking goes hand in hand with modern day culture, especially within the English demographic. The economy benefits from it, brands make a killing with it and marketers thrive on it. It's in the English DNA, not just the cricket team. If you're going to point a finger and lecture them, you're going to need to line up and talk to every 18+ adult within the UK. Just look at the beer snake's created within the crowds at most T20 matches.
It's been well documented and proven that the key to a successful team is created and nurtured from within the dressing room though. We want players to gel and form a strong a team cohesion so it's not full of individuals and there aren't any clique's in the dressing room. That doesn't just happen within training. It comes through socialising, easing the pressure and creating a common interest. Now we're not saying that common interest is drinking, but relaxing the environment and loosening the metaphorical tie over a beer is not uncommon.
Obviously, times have changed from the beer sinking, cigar smoking David Boon's and Ian Botham's of the game and have been replaced by the elite conditioned, multi-endorsed athletes. Nothing wrong with that. We want the game to grow. We want more cricket being played, larger attendances and increased funding pumped into the game from the grassroots up and that comes through commercialisation. With more responsibility (and reward) heaped on the modern day player though, more responsibility/care needs to be taken. But an awkward headbutt and pouring a drink over a teammate in a bar doesn't justify the temporary suspension, fine and a final written warning. Duckett should have been protected by his seniors and cricketing board rather than singled out and embarrassed for, to quote James Anderson, a "non-event".
Ben Stokes' actions can't be included in that bracket though. There's a line and Stokes passed that pretty quickly when he saw red on the streets of Bristol. However, he shouldn't be immediately exiled from English cricket. The guy is too talented and valuable to the game to be left out in the cold and forgotten about. Of course his talent doesn't put him above the law, but one mistake shouldn't cut his international career short. He needs to take his punishment, learn from it and win back the trust & respect from the public, authorities & his teammates. Don't forget this guy once smashed 258* off 198 South African balls.
Ultimately, there needs to be less of a divide between players and spectators. The money and fame that come with playing international cricket needs to be overlooked. The two factors don't give fans the right to dictate how players act off it. Just like with any profession. Rather than fighting each other and looking for excuses to point fingers when times are tough, we should be building relationships and support to help put English cricket back on top.
Social media is beginning to help bridge the gap between the two, along with brands such as adidas and New Balance who are beginning to invest in key players to help build their image and improve their accessibility to the cricket market. The team may be faltering at the moment but the future is bright, as long as the players receive the right backing from authorities and protection from those that are laying down banana skins.
These players are human. If we don't want them to be robotic and emotionless on the wicket, we can't be the first to sharpen the knives when they act like an average joe off it. They make mistakes. They bowl wides under pressure. They fetch balls bowled outside the off peg. And they enjoy a beer or two with each other on a night out.
Win together. Lose together.