Bairstow head-butt allegations add to England woes
England's ill-starred Ashes tour has taken its latest curious twist. As Australia closed in on a comfortable victory at the Gabba, reports emerged of an altercation between England wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow and Australia opening batsman Cameron Bancroft at a bar in Perth three weeks ago, during which it is claimed Bancroft was head-butted.
The alleged incident is believed to have taken place near the start of England's tour, while Bancroft was playing for Western Australia, and before he was called up for his Test debut. Sources suggest it was more of a coming together than a violent assault, and the police were not called.
A representative of the England and Wales Cricket Board met with Bairstow after the close of the fourth day's play at the Gabba to hear his version of events, and afterwards the body released the following statement: "At close of play in Brisbane, we were made aware of allegations of an incident in Perth three weeks ago.
"There has been no report of any incident from the venue, security or police, and there was no injury reported. Following an initial conversation with Jonny Bairstow, we understand the context and will follow up with England players and management after the Brisbane Test."
Central to the ECB's investigation will be to establish whether this is a cause for genuine alarm - particularly in the wake of Ben Stokes' arrest in Bristol in September - or a mischievous attempt to derail England's Ashes challenge ahead of the crucial Adelaide Test, starting in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Certainly the timing of the revelation is curious, as is the manner in which it emerged in the Australian media just as England were tumbling to a heavy defeat.
Some Australian players, including Bancroft's opening partner David Warner, were believed to be referring to the incident in the middle while Bairstow was batting.
Yet Bancroft's management were unaware of the incident until it emerged yesterday, and so too were many within the Australian set-up.
Whatever the truth of the situation, it is an unwelcome distraction for England, putting captain Joe Root even further on the defensive as he plots a way back into the series.
Australia are unlikely to encounter many difficulties in knocking off the 56 runs required for victory on day five, and given that no England side has come from behind to win an Ashes series in Australia since 1954-55, Root's task was already formidable enough.
The wider issue, of course, is whether the England team has a flaw in its culture that leaves itself vulnerable to alcohol-related mischief.
Following the Stokes incident, the squad drew up its own code of conduct for the tour, central to which was an agreement not to go out drinking in the days leading up to a game.
If Bairstow is deemed to have been out drinking against team guidelines, that may earn its own rebuke, separate from the Bancroft incident.
Should he be withdrawn from the side, his place would be taken by Surrey's Ben Foakes, who will play for the England Lions in a three-day game against a Queensland XI starting today. (© Independent News Service)