JOHANNESBURG – In a strange turn of events, cricket – the so-called gentleman’s game – took a leaf from football, more commonly known for diving and being okay with cheating, to reinforce some decency at the end of what’s been an acrimonious series between South Africa and Australia.
Tim Paine, the Australian captain, admitted on Friday evening to watching some international football on television in the last few weeks and seeing the players shake hands after the anthems, set off a light bulb in his head.
He approached Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis before play on Friday and relayed his idea, which Du Plessis was happy to accept.
So, after both anthems were completed on Friday morning, players from the two teams shook hands – Morné Morkel, playing in his final match for his country, doing so carefully as he balanced his young son Arias on his other arm.
“There’s been a bit of tension between the two sides,” said Paine.
“We want to be super competitive, but we also want to be really respective of our opponents. It was important we showed that today, it’s something we want to take forward, and that’s the way we want to start a Test series.
“(Faf) thought it was a good idea and maybe other sides, including South Africa, may start using it as well.”
It was the turning of a new leaf for Australian cricket – symbolically at least – in the immediate aftermath after a turbulent week for the sport worldwide, but particularly in that country.
Cricket Australia says it wants to change the culture of the national team, making it less boorish.
“We are taking it one day at a time and slowly trying to build back the respect of the cricket world, our fans and the Australian public.
“We have a really long journey to get to where we want to get to, we think the last couple of days have been the start of that long journey,” said Paine.
“There are times we have to be more respectful of our opposition and more respectful of the game of cricket; at times, we have tended to push the boundaries as far as we possibly could,” said Paine.
“I think we’ve seen that people probably don’t like that, it’s time for us to change.
“We are happy to do that. I think it probably suits this group of players. We are a different group of players than Australia have had for a long time, we haven’t got too many guys who like to verbalise… that really hard-nosed Australian approach.
“We are about creating an environment where guys can come in and play cricket and be themselves. If we can achieve that, guys will achieve better results.”
There was a noticeably more sedate atmosphere between the two sides compared with what was on display in the first three Tests.
Aiden Markram, who spent more than five hours crafting the most magnificent century, said it was much quieter.
“The first three games there was a lot of chat on the field, as you would expect in Test cricket. Maybe not so much of that today.
“Both sides are pretty drained after what happened last week. It was a lot worse for the Australians, but it still had an impact on us,” said the Proteas opener.
Nevertheless both Paine and Markram explained that despite the volume being turned down, the play itself was still invigorating, particularly once the Australians had settled down in the final session.
“It felt like a Test match, it was really competitive… we are playing a different style, but a lot of the guys would have been thinking about some other things, and were a little bit flat,” Paine mused.
“Being out there and batting there was always pressure. It always felt that you are in a big contest,” Markram added.