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The unique’Shhhh’ celebrations of Ben Stokes (left) and Virat Kohli. (Courtesy: Screen grab)

He may have avoided a fine at Mohali, but by the time Ben Stokes’ playing days are over, he will be poorer than many of his colleagues and peers. Stokes has a penchant for getting under the opposition’s skin and crossing the generally acceptable line between aggression and misbehaviour. No wonder he was reprimanded by ICC when he used offensive language following his dismissal in the first innings at Mohali after a heated exchange with Virat Kohli (barely a saint himself when it comes to this). The Indian skipper escaping the censure from the game’s governing body despite a send-off earned the ire of English media.

Virat might have passively instigated the friction that has grabbed the spotlight in the ongoing Test. Sunil Gavaskar, however, was not a pleased man. Cricket Australia’s website quoted Gavaskar: “You have got the batsman out, why do you need to give him a send off? Why say anything? Just congratulate your teammates and Parthiv Patel for a fine piece of work [stumping] on his comeback. But why say anything to the batsman? He is upset as it is. Then what, rub salt into the wounds? It’s the one part of cricket I do not approve of at all.”

Stokes, despite his immense talent, by no means is a modest man. He faces a jail term if he drives in England before mid-December thanks to a history of speeding (thankfully, he will be playing Test cricket in India at that time). Perhaps he loves living in a fast lane.

India do not have good memories for Stokes.  With 19 to score off the last over, Stokes was smacked for four consecutive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite as West Indies marched their way to a World T20 win earlier this year. Stokes had an ugly tiff with Marlon Samuels. He went onto write an article for Daily Mail titled West Indies’ Marlon Samuels is the one guy I cannot stand.

Just over a month back, things turned ugly in Bangladesh when Stokes pushed Tamim Iqbal when the latter did not let go of his post-match customary handshake with Jonny Bairstow; as usual, Stokes got involved in an argument.

His streak of over-the-top behaviour continued in Bangladesh when he refused to shake hands with a player during a warm-up game. In the second Test he was fined 15 per cent of his match fees for an altercation with Sabbir Rahman.

Alastair Cook had then jumped to his ace all-rounder’s defence. He had pointed at umpires instead: “I do find it a little bit frustrating. Both Sabbir and Stokesy are very competitive cricketers. To me, people love it. That is what people watch. Sometimes I believe the umpires can get involved too quickly, and then it blows up even more. When umpires get involved it can drag it out and brings more theatre to it than you need.”

With his history of fines and reprimands, a ban is looming over unless he decides to turn sober and seek solace in going the David Warner way.

Feisty Virat Kohli

When fire clashes with fire, the blaze can leave things charred. Mohali witnessed its share of drama. The combustible Virat has his own issues but we lip-readers know for sure that he has mellowed down over the years.

However, if you needle him be prepared for the thud that lands on your face.

Stokes was looking dangerous on 29. Then he decided to hit Ravindra Jadeja out of the attack. He was deceived by pace as the ball skidded to Parthiv’s gloves, and Parthiv effected a neat stumping. Stokes did not like the send-off; he got into a tongue-wielding battle with Virat.

Umpires did not like what Stokes said. He was reprimanded. Stokes did not take it lightly. Virat walked out to bat started cautiously when it was his turn at the crease. The moment Stokes was brought into the attack, Virat greeted the Englishman with back-to-back boundaries.

Stokes altered plans and kept Virat quiet. Virat managed only 5 from the next 24 balls he faced from Stokes. The runs dried up for a while as Stokes employed the James-Anderson-of 2014-method by consistently bowling outside off-stump to Virat. Cook aided Stokes with a 7-2 field.

But Kohli is too good a batsman to be perturbed by such tactics. He stroked to an attractive 62 before feather-edging one to Bairstow’s gloves off Stokes. He looked to run it down to the third-man and India were reduced to 204 for 6.

Stokes celebrated by placing his palm over his hand and turning his face away from Virat. Umpire Chris Gaffney smiled and gave Stokes a pat for showing self-restraint.

English media went gaga over Stokes’ self-restraint. Was it? Nick Hoult of Telegraph wrote, “The Stokes of old would have let it fester. Marlon Samuels has kicked sand in his face in the past and Stokes has let his temper get the better of him and his performances have suffered.

This time he had to keep his cool because his tussle with Virat would be crucial to this match, and in turn, the series.”

Where is the restraint? “We know Kohli is a class player and for Stokes to get him was good,” said Adil Rashid, who ended up with four wickets before adding, “There’s been a bit of friction between them. Ben showed his class.”

Stokes’ reaction was a resultant of the friction. Again, where was the restraint? By placing all his fingers on his mouth, he made a statement. But perhaps Virat knows a thing or two more about fingers. Ask the Sydney crowd.

Day Three

Stokes claimed a five-for. India managed a 134-run lead. Stokes walked out at 70 for 3. Minutes before stumps, Stokes was squared up by an Ashwin delivery that apparently hit his pad before running to the fence.

The Indians were vocal with their appeal but umpire Gaffney gave them as runs. India had already reviewed one unsuccessfully. Virat must have desired to get back to his foe but as a leader, the responsibilities are larger.

The dilemma was whether to go or not for the review, and he did. For all we know and have seen in the past, Stokes has the knack of racing away with the game with his counterattacking approach.

Three red lights lit up, one after the other, as Hawk-Eye sprung into action. Stokes had to take the long walk back. It was time for Virat’s finger to do the ‘shhhh’ talking.

The Indian captain waved Stokes goodbye and gave him a silent finger-on-the-lips farewell.

Cook was correct. Fans do love such moments. It is a hard-fought contest and tempers do flare. Cricket has never been about gentlemanliness. Stokes is a feisty character, as is Kohli. Stokes chose the wrong guy this time and paid for it.

You do not needle Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes. You simply do not.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)