It’s a conspiracy! Poms enraged by Bairstow ‘stitch up’

MATT Prior and the UK press have downplayed allegations wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow headbutted Cameron Bancroft four weeks ago, accusing Australia of trying to derail England's Ashes campaign.

But former England captain Michael Vaughan took a dimmer view of the accusations, pointing to Bairstow's recent fine for late-night drinking as cause for concern.

Bairstow was out with vice-captain Ben Stokes and other teammates when Stokes became embroiled in a wild street brawl - in which Bairstow had no involvement.

He was fined by the England and Wales Cricket Board but did not have to serve a suspension, as Stokes and teammate Alex Hales did.

But Vaughan painted the picture that there was a pattern emerging with Bairstow's behaviour that was a "big issue" for the team and indicated the situation was "a big, big problem" for the wicketkeeper-batsman.

"This is a big issue for the team," Vaughan told BT Sports.

"You go back two months ago with the Ben Stokes incident - Jonny Bairstow was fined by the ECB around that incident for being out too late.

"I believe 24 hours before England came to Australia the players sat in a room and went through their own code of conduct.

"If Jonny Bairstow, on the first night in Australia, has broken that code of conduct - also on a fine already from two months ago - I think he has a big, big problem."

The ECB confirmed on Sunday that it was investigating the incident, having only found out about it at stumps on day four.

The incident allegedly took place at the Avenue Hotel in Perth, before Bancroft was seriously in the frame for a Test call-up, while England was in town for its tour-opening tour match against a Western Australian XI.

And it seems Australia's players were well aware of the run-in, with Bairstow copping plenty of lip from David Warner and company both while he was batting and after he was dismissed.

However, the UK press smell something fishy.

"Relations between England and Australia will plummet now with the tourists suspecting a stitch up," wrote the Telegraph's Nick Hoult.

"Bairstow was given a send off by David Warner when he was out for 42 as the Australia players sledged him over the incident with Bancroft.

"Cricket Australia did not want to become involved last night but England suspect the Australians have allowed their media to fire bullets for them."

The story comes at a particularly bad time for England. On top of breaking at stumps on day four, with defeat all but certain for the tourists in the first Test, it comes at a time when serious questions are being asked of the drinking culture in the England team.

Questions first raised after star all-rounder Ben Stokes was taken into police custody for a late-night brawl in Bristol in September. He remains under police investigation for causing actual bodily harm. However, the overriding feeling in England is that this particular incident has been blown out of proportion.

Veteran BBC cricket pundit and three-time Test player Jonathan Agnew reports that the clash barely caused a stir on the night, while former wicketkeeper Matt Prior believes Australia are looking to destabilise the English team.

"I understand from the camp that Bairstow and Bancroft were having a drink together," Agnew told the BBC. "Their heads met. They carried on drinking together.

"More ammo for accusations of a drink culture, but this will not help relations between the teams."

Prior also opined that what Bairstow is accused of doing is nothing like David Warner' infamous run-in with Joe Root in 2013. Warner was suspended for three weeks by Cricket Australia for punching the future England captain at the Walkabout Bar.

Further, the ECB were hardly heavy handed in their statement on the issue while Hoult's sources point Bairstow's use of his head being a peculiar show of mateship.

"On this occasion Bairstow made light contact with the side of Bancroft's head although sources have suggested it was part of a greeting the England wicketkeeper uses with friends at home," wrote Hoult.

"At close of play in Brisbane, we were made aware of allegations of an incident in Perth three weeks ago," the ECB's statement read. "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 tonight, we understand the context and will follow up with England players and management after the Brisbane Test."

The Sun's John Etheridge has also downplayed the incident.

"Sunsport understands Bairstow and other players present have told team supremo Andrew Strauss that it was a minor incident on a team night out and everyone left 'on good terms'" he wrote.

"They say Bairstow and Bancroft knocked heads while grappling rugby-style in a non-aggressive manner. Both Bancroft's group and the England players continued drinking together at the Avenue bar in Perth."

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