Stokes issue continues to cause uncertainty for Root and England

In the near 48 hours between Root's two much-awaited assessments of one of English cricket's most vexed topics of recent years, the Test captain switched hemispheres and arrived down under with a 16-man squad - minus Stokes, of course - at the start of his maiden Ashes series in charge.

But between Friday's departure press conference in London and Root's arrival salvo in Perth on Sunday, a new twist in the tale emerged thanks to a Sun interview in which two gay men claimed Stokes was defending them from homophobic abuse when he was arrested after disorder outside a Bristol nightclub in the early hours of September 25.

Billy O'Connell and Kai Barry described Stokes, respectively, as a "hero" and a "gentleman" for helping them.

Stokes is still under investigation by Avon & Somerset Police, despite being released without any charge as yet - and following last month's events, he and one-day international opener Alex Hales are not under consideration for selection until further notice by the England and Wales Cricket Board, pending a Cricket Discipline Commission inquiry.

As for Root, the small matter of 9,000 air miles changed nothing about the line of questioning he faced as the Australian media took their first opportunity to quiz him - and he diverted only marginally from previous remarks.

"As a friend, I hope (this) can be good news for Ben," he said.

"But the reality is we've all got to wait and see ... we've got to plan as if he's not going to be here.

"In terms of the criminal investigation, we have to let the police get on with that.

"(Then) there'll be an internal investigation that follows. We're completely in the dark as to what's going to happen."

Root's opening address as captain on Australian soil was inevitably overshadowed by the Stokes saga - but given the chance, he managed a more generic positive spin on the series ahead.

"There's always a psychological edge to the Ashes," he said. " I'm sure there'll be plenty of banter flying around on and off the field.

"I just try to be myself, and (enjoy) what's such a great tour to be involved in.

"That's something you've got to cherish and relish, and be able to look back on at the end of your career and say 'I gave it my best shot'.

"You don't get chance to play here very often, so I think it's really important you try to make the most of it."

  Ben Stokes' Ashes prospects remain unclear
Ben Stokes' Ashes prospects remain unclear