Ben Stokes
Stokes lost his £200k-a-year sponsorship deal with New Balance as a result of the Bristol incident

Cricketer Ben Stokes has been hailed a "real hero" by a gay couple, who claim he was defending them from homophobic abuse when he was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm last month.

The England all-rounder was held in Bristol on 25 September following an alleged 2am street brawl in Queens Road. In the wake of his arrest, footage emerged of him appearing to throw up to 15 punches.

However, Kai Barry, 26, and Billy O'Connell, 20, told the Sun that Stokes was a "gentleman" and came to their aid after they faced a barrage of abuse and were called "batty boys" - a gay slur.

The couple claim that they met Stokes, 26, and his England team-mate Alex Hales at the Mbargo nightclub in Clifton Triangle.

They say the night took a nasty turn when "batty boys" was shouted multiple times.

"We were so grateful to Ben. He was a real hero. Kai feared he could be attacked. If Ben hadn't intervened it could have been a lot worse," O'Connell said.

Barry added that they could have "been in real trouble" had Stokes not stepped in, saying he was "a real gentleman."

In the wake of the incident, New Balance confirmed they severed ties with the sportsman, saying in a statement that they do not "condone behaviour by our global athletes that does not match our brand culture and values."

Although a final decision on his involvement in the Ashes series has yet to be made, it is unlikely he will join his teammates when they depart for Australia on 28 October. Stokes was England's best hope for victory.

The first of five Ashes Tests is scheduled to get underway in Brisbane on 23 November and England will face Western Australia and a Cricket Australia XI before that opening clash at the Gabba.