How can Ben Stokes restore his tattered reputation?
There’s no doubt that Ben Stokes is one of the best cricketers in England right now.
He’s been compared to Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff because of his skill with bat and ball and the ability to change matches, battling to win games with passion and commitment.
But Stokes' reputation has taken a battering after he was filmed having a fight at a Bristol nightclub last year just hours after a match and the images of the fight, of bruised faces and his arrest all brought him and, more importantly, cricket, into disrepute.
Those images are a reminder to top level sports stars that teir every move is being watched and recorded and that the scrutiny into their conduct and the evidence to back it up is more accessible now than ever before.
The trial into his assault on two men took place, with the jury hearing allegations that he made homophobic comments, threw a barrage of punches and knocked out one of the men he was arguing with.
Stokes has been found not guilty after a court case which has dominated the front and back pages but he must now rebuild his reputation before any more damage is done.
Remember, he has a long record of misbehaviour that has attracted negative headlines.
He was previously arrested and cautioned for ‘obstructing the police’; he was sent home from the Australian tour for breaking drinking rules; he fractured his hand after getting out during an ODI against the West Indies and consequently missed the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh. He also mocked the son of model Katie Price, who has learning difficulties, after the young boy swore on television.
There have been reports that Stokes could lose endorsements of more than £2m after the Bristol incident, with his £200,000-a-year sponsor New Balance already terminating his contract.
Would England have fared any better with Stokes in the team that so comprehensively lost the Ashes last winter to Australia, after he was suspended ahead of the legal proceedings into the afore-mentioned brawl?
Earlier this summer, there were suggestions after England destroyed Australia by scoring a world record 481-6, that Stokes did not warrant a place in the team on reputation alone.
But you only have to look at how he finished off India in the first Test at Headingly to see how important he is to the England team.
The fire that sometimes causes controversy, gets him fines or injuries, is part of the reason why he is so successful, but it needs to be channelled.
Certainly Stokes needs some guidance or counselling to help him to control his anger and remind him that as one of the most prominent members of the England cricket set-up, he needs to act accordingly.
He has been included in the squad for the Third Test against India at Trent Bridge, perhaps too quickly given how well England did without him, but must still undertake an independent Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) review into his conduct and events of the night in Bristol, which took place in the middle of an international cricket series.
The CDC need to tread a delicate line. They have to ensure that they do not punish Stokes too heavily now that he has been acquitted and, in the eyes of some, has served his punishment by missing the Ashes.
The ECB put in place processes to ensure players are reminded constantly of their responsibilities, that rules are in place to prevent players being at clubs or bars when they should be resting on international duty and that serious punishments are meted out if any of these rules are broken.
Cricket needs positive role models now more than ever.
It was only a few months ago that Australia captain Steve Smith and opener David Warner received one-year bans by Cricket Australia for their role in a ball-tampering scandal.
The proposed 100-ball cricket competition being mooted presently is aimed at appealing to a wider, family-friendly audience. Attracting new sponsors to the game is not going to be easy if more negative stories arise.
Stokes has now publicly stated that he is going to focus on his cricket and along with his advisers, he must work harder to ensure that he avoids any more encounters with the law, that he stays off social media channels and that he acknowledges that his behaviour was damaging for the sport he represents.
But he needs to go further than that, to prove that he has changed his ways and learnt to curb his temper without curtailing his cricketing prowess.
Anything else simply isn’t cricket.