New Delhi: While doubt remains over Ben Stokes’ participation in the upcoming Ashes series against Australia two gay men have hailed the suspended England all-rounder as ‘hero’ for defending the duo from a homophobic attack in a nightclub in Bristol last month. The same night Stokes was involved in a brawl outside the nightclub.Also Read - Ben Stokes Not a Certainty For Opening Ashes Test: Ashley Giles

According to a report by The Sun, two gay men Kai Barry (26) and Billy O’Connell (20) supported the claim made by Stokes in the wake of his arrest on suspicion of actual bodily harm, of coming to their defence when they were subjected to homophobic attacks. Also Read - Jason Gillespie Can See Shades of Adam Gilchrist in Alex Carey, Wants Him in Ashes Squad

Barry and O’Connell claimed they met Stokes and Alex Hales in a nightclub on the evening of September 24 (after England’s ODI victory over the West Indies) and Stokes bought them drinks. Also Read - Expect My Pacers Not to Come up With Excuses During Ashes: Australia Bowling Coach Andrew McDonald

They said they had no idea they were cricketers.

“We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero. Barry feared he could be attacked. If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us,” O’Connell was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Barry added: “I’m not a fighter and we didn’t want a fight. We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.”

“We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were famous cricketers. I just thought Ben and Alex were quite hot, fit guys. We only found out when a policeman came round this week,” he further said.

Both players have been suspended indefinitely by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Stokes was initially named as England vice-captain for the Ashes but was withdrawn from the squad earlier this month, pending further investigation.

Coming out in support of the all-rounder, Billy said: “Ben is a really nice guy and I hope he can still play for England in the Ashes. It would be awful his career was ruined over this. He was just trying to help defend Barry.”

The Ashes will start on November 23, with England touring Australia for five Tests and as many One-day Internationals before engaging in a T20 tri-series, also involving New Zealand early next year.

(With IANS inputs)