By Bill Gardner and Tom Morgan for the Telegraph

It was supposed to be the crowning moment of Ben Stokes's phenomenal year.

Last Wednesday evening the England star was named the country's finest cricketer after his heroics helped to win a World Cup and salvage an Ashes draw with Australia.

But on Tuesday, Stokes faced an extraordinary and serious allegation; that he assaulted his wife shortly after stepping off the stage.

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Photographs published on the Guido Fawkes website appeared to show Stokes gripping his partner, Clare, by the throat, as she seemed to grimace and back away.

Other pictures taken earlier in the evening show Stokes and his wife in heated conversation with another man, and later being escorted by security.

The couple were quick to dismiss the claims as "nonsense", and insisted it was simply a display of playful affection.

And on Tuesday night, multiple guests told Telegraph Sport that, indeed, the pictures are not quite what they seem.

Ben Stokes after being named Players Player of the Year. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Stokes after being named Players Player of the Year. Photo / Getty Images

The reaction to the pictures online was swift, and severe. One bookmaker announced that the cricketer's odds to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year had dropped "dramatically".

Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor, tweeted he was "very concerned about Ben Stokes the husband if this allegation is as it looks. No excuse". Others remembered pictures in 2013 of Charles Saatchi gripping then-wife, Nigella Lawson, by the throat.

But less than two hours after the Guido story was published, Clare Stokes wrote, in a message shared by her husband, on Twitter: "Unbelievable what nonsense these people will make up! Me and Ben messing about squishing up each other's faces cos that's how we show affection and some pap tries to twist it into a crazy story!"

Other guests who witnessed the incident agreed with her version of events. It was certainly a drunken evening, with a roomful of cricketers "knocking back plenty of champagne and being rowdy". After winning the award, Stokes was on "good form" and chatting to friendly faces. Every half an hour or so, he would emerge to smoke a cigarette and pose for selfies with fellow players and journalists.

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Some of the younger cricketers became angry at the photographers snapping pictures of Stokes, but the England star soon "smoothed it all over", according to one guest.

But at one point, a stranger struck up a conversation with Stokes's wife Clare while the cricketer was turned away, talking to another group.

The man said something Clare did not like. The conversation became heated, and Stokes turned round to intervene.

The photographer who took the pictures told Telegraph Sport: "The guy said something or did something that made Ben's wife angry. She's pretty p----- off at the bloke. Ben then turned around and put his arm around his wife and was trying to calm it down.

"That's when Ben and his wife came through to the passageway leading to the outside. That's when he raised his hand to her face. It wasn't obvious whether they were having a row or whether he did it as a joke – it was difficult to tell."

Another witness said: "Eventually he managed to get her away from the situation and into the lobby. At which point Stokes grabbed her face in their usual playful way to kiss his partner. Shortly afterwards, they left the venue.

Pictures taken later in the evening showed a smiling Stokes and his wife clutching a McDonald's meal, before walking into a hotel in south-west London.

Four days later, Clare celebrated her 30th birthday, with her husband's help.

Clare, a primary school teacher, met Stokes in August 2010 during a Lancashire v Durham game at Old Trafford. The couple have since had two children, a son and a daughter, and married in Somerset in 2017.

One source close to the couple said: "I find the idea of Ben raising his hand to Clare extremely unlikely. She's the only person in the world he's actually scared of."