Ben Stokes has issued an apology after his “unprofessional” verbal altercation with a fan on the opening day of the fourth Test between England and South Africa.
Stokes had just lost his wicket and was walking to the pavilion when he reacted to abuse from a member of the crowd and was caught on camera saying: “Say it to me outside the ground, you f*****g four-eyed c**t.”
Stokes could now be sanctioned by the International Cricket Council (ICC), and faces a possible fine or even a suspension, depending on how serious the sport’s governing body deems the incident.
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If a player accrues four demerit points within 24 months, they receive a one-Test or two-ODIs ban. Stokes currently has no demerit points on his record, having last been punished by the ICC in 2017.
In a statement released on Friday evening, Stokes said: “I wish to apologise for my language that was heard on the live broadcast today after my dismissal. I should not have reacted in that way.
“As I was leaving the playing area, I was subjected to repeated abuse from the crowd.
“I admit that my reaction was unprofessional, and I sincerely apologise for the language I used, especially to the many young fans watching the live telecast around the world.
“Throughout the Tests so far, the support from both sets of fans (England and South Africa) has been brilliant. One incident will not ruin such a competitive series, which we are determined to win.”
Ashley Giles, Managing Director for England Men’s Cricket, added: “It is disappointing that a member of the public has gone out of their way to abuse Ben as he was leaving the field. Ben is fully aware that he should not have reacted in the way that he did and apologises for his actions.
“In addition to this incident, members of our support staff were subjected to personal abuse during and after the day’s play. We have requested to the venue to ensure that security and stewarding are enhanced for the remainder of the match so that players’ and staff members can go about their duties without provocation.”
“You have to hold your tongue if you can,” former England captain Mike Atherton told Sky Sports. “It is a fruity area (next to the tunnel at the Wanderers). I recall a game when Merv Hughes got done in that tunnel area, it’s a hostile place, I don’t condone abuse, supporters or players.”
Another former England captain, Nasser Hussain, added Stokes needed to realise no good could come of becoming involved with fans.
“We can be cool and calm in the commentary box, but when you’ve just got out and someone is abusing you, you can lose the plot,” he said. “Everyone wants a piece of Ben Stokes, fans go up to him in hotels and airports, everyone wants a piece. Then you see the bad side, a South Africa fan will have a go, it’s part of the game and you have to suck it up.
“It’s easy for us to say, he probably regrets it now, he’s going to have to bite his tongue.”
Later, as the TV cameras panned back to Stokes while sat on the England balcony, he offered a thumbs up and a smile. At the end of the match, he took time to greet and sign autographs with fans who had congregated around the same tunnel.
Beuran Hendricks, the South African fast bowler, said: “It’s a public sport so I think if fans are coming hard, we certainly don’t condone it as players, we expect more from fans, we are all trying to enjoy the game.
“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.”
At stumps on day one England, who lead the series 2-1, were 192-4, with Joe Root and Joe Denly at the crease.