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England’s Ben Stokes shows restraint as he has last laugh on Virat Kohli

The Guardian logo The Guardian 28-11-2016 Ali Martin in Mohali
© AP Photo

Ben Stokes has long had a reputation for being able to “make something happen” but on the second day in Mohali, when still smarting from the official reprimand that followed an industrial exchange with Virat Kohli 24 hours earlier, this often combustible all-rounder for once made damn sure it did not.

Stokes has become a lightning rod for flashpoints during his career but after the key wicket of Kohli in the evening session – the Indian captain caught behind on 62 and the dismissal continuing what was something of a post-tea resurrection from England – he instead opted to exert some control, simply turning away from the departing batsman and placing his hand over his mouth.

While it may have still been playing up to the cameras a touch, his response could easily have gone another way. Stokes has been privately seething since the first day when, upon being stumped for 29 in the afternoon, he heard what he believed to be a crude sendoff from the India captain. His response then was to convey some choice words back, only to find himself, but not Kohli, in front of the match referee after stumps.

However, this time around, having teased the edge of Kohli’s bat with a ball that nipped away a touch for what could yet prove a pivotal moment in this intriguing Test match, Stokes made the smart choice. England may not want their all-rounder to lose his fiery side but neither do they want to lose him to suspension.

As Sunil Gavaskar, the former Indian opener, said on BBC’s Test Match Special when discussing Kohli’s behaviour the day before: “You have got the batsman out, why do you need to give him a sendoff? He’s 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.”

England’s Ben Stokes, centre, is tight-lipped as Jimmy Anderson puts his arm around his shoulder following the dismissal of India’s Virat Kohli. © Reuters England’s Ben Stokes, centre, is tight-lipped as Jimmy Anderson puts his arm around his shoulder following the dismissal of India’s Virat Kohli.

Restraint is not a word previously associated with Stokes but on this tour it has been a welcome feature of his cricket. Before his tame first-innings dismissal and the potty-mouthed retort that followed, this has chiefly come with the bat in hand but on the second day in Mohali, the second string to his bow came to the fore as England desperately tried to undo the damage of their self-immolated first innings.

The 25-year-old prefers to play his cricket on the front foot and yet here, having earlier made the initial breakthrough in his first over as the opener Murali Vijay made the rare and chivalrous decision to walk following a faint nick behind, he became Alastair Cook’s holding seamer during the afternoon session.

Pounding away outside off stump to defensive fields in an unfamiliar role, Stokes offered his captain some much-needed control as Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara began slowly asserting themselves on the tourists in what is becoming an all too familiar sight for England’s bowlers in this series.

It did not come naturally at first, with Kohli striking back-to-back boundaries in the opening over of his new spell to raise the temperature between the two further and suggest that, of the tattooed combatants, he may be the one to get the upper hand on this occasion.

However, slowly Stokes grew into it, nearly forcing the breakthrough when a tough chance off Pujara down the leg side was spilled by Jonny Bairstow. In a response in keeping with his day as a whole, Stokes kept his cool at the drop, however, preferring instead to applaud his wicketkeeper’s efforts generously rather than display any frustration.

The rewards for the shift he put in for his captain would instead come later in the day when Kohli, in a brief lapse of concentration and only one run short of 400 already in this series, feathered a catch behind. However, while England’s fielders ran to all corners in elation, the man who makes things happen held it all in for once.

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