England all-rounder Ben Stokes has pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray at Bristol Magistrates' Court following an incident outside a nightclub in the city last September.

Stokes appeared in court on Tuesday (February 13) with two other men involved in the incident, Ryan Hale and Ryan Ali, both of whom also pleaded not guilty. All three were released on unconditional bail by District Judge Simon Cooper and the case will now be heard at Bristol Crown Court, with the first hearing scheduled for 12th March.

With the hearing taking place after the conclusion of England's ODI series against New Zealand, which is set to get over on March 9, Stokes will be available to play for the Eoin Morgan-led side. While Stokes had earlier been named in the squad, ECB confirmed on Tuesday that he will be travelling to New Zealand and will join the team on February 16, ahead of the ODI series that begins on February 25.

"Having entered his plea at Bristol Magistrates Court today, Ben Stokes will now travel to New Zealand to join the England squad," an ECB spokesperson said. "He departs tomorrow, Wednesday 14 February, and will arrive on Friday 16 February, ready to train with England team mates in Hamilton."



With Stokes not required to attend the first hearing in person, he could also play a part in the two-Test match series which follows, beginning on March 22. However, Stokes's participation is solely up to the team management and head coach Trevor Bayliss, the ECB statement added.

"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. It has been confirmed that he will not be required to return to the UK for the first hearing at Bristol Crown Court on Monday 12 March."

Stokes has not played for England since the incident during the ODI series against Windies last summer. He was not considered for selection for the Ashes series in Australia but the ECB announced in January, once it was confirmed Stokes had been charged, that they have now decided he should once again be allowed to play for the national team. What future impact the court case has on his availability remains to be confirmed though.

Stokes, wearing a dark navy suit, arrived in a rainy Bristol to be confronted by a mass of media outside the magistrates court reflecting the interest surrounding the case. The 26 year-old spoke to confirm his name, date of birth and address and then left quickly afterwards. This is just the first instalment of a case which has plenty left to run.