England's turbulent start to the Ashes suffered a further blow after it emerged that wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow is being investigated following an alleged altercation with Australia opener Cameron Bancroft earlier this month.
As England meandered towards all but certain defeat in the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane, news broke of a confrontation between Bairstow and Bancroft in a Perth bar.
The incident is said to have occurred when a group of England players bumped into members of Western Australia’s squad, including Bancroft who is making his Test debut at the Gabba, during the first week of the tour.
In some quarters Bairstow is accused of headbutting Bancroft, while in others the Yorkshireman became embroiled in less significant antics with Australia’s opening batsman. Bairstow is believed to have apologised at the time.
An England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) statement said: “At the close of play in Brisbane today, we were made aware of allegations of an incident in Perth four 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 tonight we understand the context and will follow up with England players and management after the Brisbane Test.”
Bairstow was fined after being one of the players out the night all-rounder Ben Stokes was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm following an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September.
Whether the ECB deem the Bairstow episode to be worthy of further action or not, it will inevitably lead to renewed questions about the freedom afforded to England players, particularly in light of the Stokes affair.
At the start of the tour, head coach Trevor Bayliss confirmed that England’s players would not be subject to curfews, although the expectation would be that they were to abstain from drinking between matches.
Seamer Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, has confirmed that Australia would continue to target the fragility of England’s tail as his side moved to the brink of a 1-0 lead in the five-match series on Sunday.
England lost their final four wickets for just 10 runs as they were dismissed for 195 in their second innings, leaving Australia needing only 170 for victory. Half-centuries from Bancroft and fellow opener David Warner saw Australia to 114-0 at the close.
“We have plans to all the English batters but we spoke a bit about the tail,” said Starc, who finished with match-figures of 6-128. “The way our boys bowled against them in the last home Ashes [5-0 in 2013-14], we used that as a blueprint and they can expect more short stuff as the series goes on.”