Andrew Strauss lays down curfew for ‘naive’ England players
Visiting players not allowed out after midnight due to fallout from Bairstow incident
England wicket keeper Jonny Bairstow and captain Joe Root leave the pitch after defeat to Australia in the first Ashes Test. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA
Andrew Strauss has barred his “naive” England players from going out past midnight after Jonny Bairstow’s bizarre clash of heads with Australia’s Cameron Bancroft in a bar four weeks ago dominated the end of Monday’s defeat in the first Ashes Test.
Strauss, the team director, insisted it would be wrong to portray English cricketers as “thugs” in the light of both this latest incident – one that was defused slightly when Bancroft described it as “weird” but not malicious – and the arrest of Ben Stokes in Bristol in September. But he once again reiterated responsibilities in a stern team meeting after the match.
While Bairstow has escaped any disciplinary proceedings it is understood Joe Root’s tourists have now been hit with a curfew. The team management had previously been reluctant to take such action for fear of suffocating the squad on a long tour. The move – given it has annoyed the squad – therefore represents an off-field win for Australia after crushing their opponents by 10 wickets on it.
Strauss said: “These guys are not thugs. These are good, honest, hard-working cricketers who sacrifice a lot to play for England. We’ve got to take steps to make sure that reality is what people perceive of the England cricket team, not something different. I think there’s a bit of naivety there [among the players] and I think we need to be smarter.”
The former England captain spoke to Bairstow after the fourth day, when reports of the incident first surfaced on Fox Sports News, and said he was satisfied by the wicketkeeper’s explanation as to why, during a chance encounter with the Western Australia team in Perth’s Avenue bar on the first night of the tour, he knocked heads with Bancroft.
“[Jonny told me] that’s a greeting thing that he does with his mates. He assured me there was no malice, no intent, no aggression in what he did. And, although I’m somewhat surprised he would choose to do such a thing, I’m taking him at his word,” Strauss said.
Bairstow fronted up to the assembled press corps on Monday shortly after Bancroft capped an eventful Test debut by hitting the winning runs. His unbeaten 82, along with David Warner’s 87 not out, knocked off the last 56 runs needed on the final morning to set a record for the highest unbroken opening partnership (173) in a successful Test run chase.
The England wicketkeeper said the incident had been “blown out of all proportion” and there was “no malice” involved, but did not explain what actually transpired that evening and there were no questions allowed.
Instead it took Bancroft to detail the events as, alongside him, the Australian captain, Steve Smith, laughed hysterically. Describing how his Western Australia team and a group of players from the England squad crossed paths on a night out, Bancroft said: “I got into a very amicable conversation with Jonny and yeah, he just greeted me with a head-butt kind of thing. I was expecting a handshake ... it wasn’t the greeting of choice I was expecting.
“That was the way that I took it. There was certainly no malice in his actions and we continued on having very good conversations for the rest of the evening. At the time he said sorry. For me it was just really weird. It was so random. A handshake or a hug is something I would have expected more than a head-butt.”
Knockabout stuff, perhaps, but it left the England head coach, Trevor Bayliss, fuming at a needless distraction while his team are fighting to defend the Ashes. Given it occurred during the early hours, it also touched the raw nerve of the Stokes affair – an issue that leaves the all-rounder stuck at home as he awaits the outcome of a police investigation.
Bayliss bemoaned his players making “dumb” decisions and said the incident had given Australia “ammunition” to put pressure on them. Certainly Smith’s side were happy to use it, with the captain crediting Warner’s on-field words to Bairstow while he batted on the fourth day – a precursor to the story getting out – for the rash shot that got him dismissed.
Warner, who was heard continuing the on-field chat about “head-butts” over the stump microphones for a second day running, was banned for two Tests in 2013 after famously punching Joe Root in Birmingham’s Walkabout bar. Sure enough the England captain was quizzed about the leniency towards Bairstow in this instance.
“I can see why people would think that on the surface, from how blown out of proportion it’s been. These are two very different incidents and we have to be very careful that we don’t fall into that trap,” Root replied, before he pointedly noted that the issue surfaced only once Australia had taken control of the Test match.
The England captain cited Smith’s unbeaten 141 in Australia’s first innings as the difference between the two sides, ruing a missed opportunity when the hosts were 209 for seven and 93 runs behind before nudging a small lead. Root, in contrast, saw his lower order fold twice amid some hostile fast bowling. His opposite number promised more.
Smith said: “I think we’ve made our intentions pretty clear on how we’re going to bowl to the tail. I think they know that as well. So they can expect a bit more of a barrage, I’d say.”
The two teams now travel to Adelaide for Saturday’s day-night second Test, where their evenings will be spent on the field. After the match the England players will see their families join the tour before the third Test in Perth that gets under way on December 14th. – Guardian service