England cricketer Ben Stokes has pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray in connection with an incident outside a Bristol nightclub.
The 26-year-old – who missed the 4-0 Ashes defeat to Australia after being suspended by England – appeared at Bristol Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday for the first time since being charged following an alleged fight in the Clifton Triangle area of the city on 25 September.
It is alleged that a 27-year-old man suffered a fractured eye socket during the incident, which happened several hours after England had played a one-day international against the West Indies at Bristol’s Brightside Ground.
Stokes is accused of affray – which effectively amounts to public fighting – alongside Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 26, who also pleaded not guilty.
The charge states that their “conduct was such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety”.
The case will be heard at Bristol Crown Court on 12 March, with all three men on bail until then, but Stokes will not be required to appear.
If found guilty by a jury, the offence carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
In a statement posted on Twitter last month, Stokes said he was “keen to have an opportunity to clear my name”.
The Durham all-rounder is set to make his England return in the one-day series against New Zealand on 25 February after being included in the 15-man squad.
An ECB spokesman confirmed: “Having entered his plea at Bristol Magistrates Court today, Ben Stokes will now travel to New Zealand to join the England squad.
“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.”
Stokes is also due to play in the Indian Premier League when it begins in April after being sold for £1.4m to the Rajasthan Royals.