JOHANNESBURG - Hashim Amla veered off course a touch as he tried to explain what kind of atmosphere he felt the fourth Test starting at the Wanderers tomorrow would be played in.
Answering a question regarding added expectation about a Proteas win, given the Australian team is now without its two best batsmen, Amla reflected on how he likes to play the game while at the same time hinting at how the previous three Tests had unfolded.
“I have always thought that cricket is a gentleman’s game. The late Hylton Ackerman was a fond coach of mine at Under-19 level, and he used to say, ‘There’s no need for anyone to chirp because you have to earn the right to chirp or sledge,” said Amla.
"And if you earn the right to chirp then you don’t even feel the need to do it because you’ve already achieved a certain level of skill’. That was the school that I came from."
There’s been little "gentlemanly" about this series, with each match concluding with players being called in by the match referee to answer to some or other breach of the ICC’s Code of Conduct.
The Australians have now lost their captain, vice-captain and young opening batsman, and there is a sense that South Africa’s goal of winning a Test series against Australia on home soil for the first time in 48 years has been made easier.
“Not having their two best players puts them in a predicament, but who is to say that the two guys coming in won’t perform better? You can never take your eye off the ball. Everybody is wanting to excel and you have to respect everybody. International cricket is about affording your opponents respect,” said Amla.
Will that make for a "quieter" match at the Wanderers? Amla couldn’t say, but in his engagement with the travelling media on Wednesday, Australia coach Darren Lehmann said the last few days had given him plenty of food for thought.
“There is a need for us to change the way we play,” said Lehmann
“They have their issues to deal with,” Amla said. “It’s only the way that we play our cricket that’s important to us. When we play other opposition you can feel the toughness on the field and off the field you appreciate that it was a good battle. But it’s not war. It’s ridiculous to think that playing cricket is like war. Yes, it’s a tough battle of skill, but you’ve got to have respect for each other.”
With a couple of days having passed for them to absorb and reflect on the drama which has unfolded with their opponents, Amla was optimistic the home team would produce a performance closer to their best, something, despite being 2-1 up in the series, they have hitherto failed to do.
“There’s not much you can do with the distractions but I’m grateful we’re sitting in the South African changeroom, 2-1 up without the shadows hanging over us. For us it’s about the cricket."
Naturally it’s been a dreadful few days for the Australians, and they cancelled Wednesday's training as they dealt with the fallout from bans handed out to Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
They will field a new opening combination on Friday, with Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns, who arrived Wednesday, expected to face the new ball. Whether Glenn Maxwell, the third player called up, gets a start is unlikely.
There has already been so much upheaval in the Australian camp that any kind of stability with the starting XI would be welcomed. So, despite his struggles, Usman Khawaja should continue at No 3 with Shaun Marsh possibly pushing up to four and Peter Handscomb coming in at five.
Asked if the sledging would quieten down, Amla said: “I can’t tell you what the Australians are going to do, I can tell you what we are going to do, which is play the game as competitively as possible, but with an element of respect.”