England all-rounder Ben Stokes has been hailed a “real hero” for stepping in and protecting a gay couple in the incident which threatens his place on the Ashes tour.

The 26-year-old will not travel to Australia with the rest of the England squad when they fly out on Saturday as he waits to learn whether he will face criminal charges over an incident outside a nightclub in Bristol in September.

However, Kai Barry and Billy O’Connell told The Sun on Saturday that Stokes had been their white knight by stepping in to stop a group of revellers hurling homophobic abuse at them. Barry and O’Connell said Stokes bought them drinks when they met him and fellow England team-mate Alex Hales in a club that evening.

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“We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero,” 20-year-old O’Connell told the newspaper. “Kai feared he could be attacked. If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.”

Barry added things could have got ugly if the England star hadn’t intervened. “I’m not a fighter and we didn’t want a fight,” said Barry, 26. “We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.”

Barry said they hadn’t realised the fall out for Stokes until they received a visit from a police officer this week. O’Connell said he hoped Stokes would get to play in Australia.

“Ben is a really nice guy and I hope he can still play for England in the Ashes,” said O’Connell. “It would be awful (if) his career was ruined over this. He was just trying to help defend Kai.”

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