England all-rounder Ben Stokes is likely to be charged by the match referee after becoming involved in an apparently foul-mouthed exchange with a fan following his dismissal on day one of the fourth Test against South Africa.
Stokes had just been dismissed for two in England’s 192 for four and was heading towards the distinctive steel tunnel that leads to the Wanderers pavilion when he became enraged by comments from a spectator.
Those words were not picked up but it is understood that some swearing was heard, while a middle-aged man claimed to have likened the all-rounder to pop singer Ed Sheeran. Stokes seemed to respond with some angry expletives and the whole incident was captured by the host broadcasters SuperSport before being replayed on Sky Sports in the UK.
“Given the regulations that we play under, the players just have to learn to hold their tongue I'm afraid.”
Our pundits share their initial thoughts after England’s Ben Stokes appeared to be involved in an altercation with a person in the stands. #SAvENG
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) January 24, 2020
That will almost certainly be enough to activate article 2.3 of the International Cricket Council’s disciplinary code, covering “the use of words commonly known and understood to be offensive, obscene and/or profane and which can be heard by the spectators and/or the viewing public”.
Jos Buttler was fined 15 per cent of his match fee and handed one demerit point when he was heard on the stump microphone abusing Vernon Philander in the second Test, and any such charge here would bring similar results.
For any more damaging charges to be laid, match referee Andy Pycroft would have to be satisfied that the incident was considerably more serious in nature. There is provision under the code to punish anything which would cause an individual “to fear harmful or offensive contact” but, as a level three offence, that would incur enough demerit points for a ban and could also be challenged.
Stokes was later seen signing autographs in the same stand after play and by the time England had left the ground, no action had been taken.
Former England captains Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain both advised Stokes to keep his cool, even in trying circumstances.
“You have to hold your tongue if you can,” Atherton told Sky. “I don’t condone abuse – supporters or players.”
Hussain added: “When you’ve just got out and someone is abusing you, you can lose the plot. Everyone wants a piece of Ben Stokes, fans go up to him in hotels and airports, everyone wants a piece. It’s part of the game and you have to suck it up. It’s easy for us to say, but he probably regrets it now. He’s going to have to bite his tongue.”
South Africa seamer Beuran Hendricks appeared to sympathise with Stokes when asked about the conduct of some supporters.
“It’s a public sport so I think if fans are coming hard, we certainly don’t condone it as players,” he said.
“We ask the fans for respect and make sure that they are enjoying the game as much as we are. We can’t stop what the fans are doing, but we need to make sure we zone in on what is happening on the park and not really interact with anything.”
Zak Crawley did not take questions on the matter, but focused on his contribution to England’s first opening stand of 100 or more since December 2016.
Crawley made a career-best 66, his maiden Test fifty, alongside Dom Sibley (44) before South Africa’s seamers hit back in the evening.
“It was nice to get off to a good start and I think we’re in a good position,” he said.
“If we hit 300 that will be a very good score. It definitely got harder to bat in the second session and if the pitch continues to get harder, that will be a very good score.
“I’d have loved a hundred. When you’re in the 60s playing for England it’s very hard not to think about that, so I’ll have to work on that.”