Usman Khawaja doesn’t expect the Proteas to sledge his Australian teammates David Warner and Steve Smith in the World Cup clash at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Warner and Smith will be facing South Africa for the first time since returning from their 12-month bans stemming from the ball-tampering scandal that erupted during the third Test at Newlands last March.
Both were senior leadership members of the Australian team – Smith was captain and Warner his deputy – before plunging the nation’s No 1 summer sport into crisis mode back home when it was revealed that they had formulated a plan, using young opener Cameron Bancroft, to bring sandpaper on the field and tamper with the ball.
Bancroft was caught red-handed by the television cameras and also received a nine-month ban. The 26-year-old has not played for Australia since.
The ball-tampering saga was the climax of an ill-tempered series between the two fierce rivals. Six players from both teams were sanctioned by ICC Match Referee Jeff Crowe during the series, with the initial flare-up being an ugly verbal altercation between Warner and De Kock on a Kingsmead staircase in Durban during the first Test.
The drama continued through to Port Elizabeth where Proteas speedster Kagiso Rabada brushed Smith’s shoulder during the second Test. Rabada was found guilty of a Level 2 ICC Code of Conduct offence of “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact with a player” and was punished with three demerit points. Due to previous indiscretions, the verdict meant that South Africa’s talisman was suspended for the remaining two Tests of the series.
A high-profile appeal ensued with the Proteas calling on the services of Advocate Dali Mpofu, who of course also serves as the chairperson of political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Mpofu successfully lodged the appeal and Rabada was free to play the remainder of the series.
This was all before the commotion that followed at Newlands, where Warner was also harassed by a South African spectator upon his dismissal on the staircase returning to the dressingroom shortly before the ball-tampering incident that let to a cleanout of Australian cricket’s top brass.
Despite all that has transpired, Khawaja, who is good friends with Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir in the Proteas team, doesn’t believe the emotions will boil over when Smith and Warner come face-to-face with their arch nemesis.
“The South African guys are pretty good blokes. I know them for a long time. I think they will treat them fairly,” Khawaja said.
The Australian No 3 also believes the fact that Warner, who is currently the leading run-scorer at the World Cup with 516 runs, averaging 73.71, including two centuries and a top-score of 166 will work in his favour. Equally, while Smith has not been as prolific – 287 runs at 35.87 – they are both integral members of an Australian team that has lost only one game en-route to semi-final qualification already here in the United Kingdom.
South Africa, in contrast, are heading home after the Manchester clash.
“I think Steve and David are playing some beautiful cricket right now. They are part of an Australian team that is playing really good cricket right now. They fitting in perfectly and they enjoying their cricket,” Khawaja said in response to the duo’s mindset coming into the game.