JOHANNESBURG - The South African team’s Security Liaison Officer - Zunaid Wadee, has been in the gym, the younger players are being told to pack ear-plugs and skipper Faf du Plessis knows he and his team will be under enormous scrutiny when they land in Australia this week.
The recent history between the two teams has been filled with acrimony; from Du Plessis being caught sucking a mint sweet in the second Test in Hobart in 2016, to the Kingsmead stairwell incident earlier this year, followed by the shoulder “barge” between Kagiso Rabada and Steve Smith, and then most dramatically the ball tampering affair at Newlands in the third Test.
Asked what kind of reception he was expecting when the team land in Sydney on yesterday, Du Plessis replied: “Nice and hostile.” The last Test series between the two teams played here earlier this year was more akin to a soap opera than a cricket match with memories of the Proteas tour to Australia two years ago still fresh. Du Plessis endured the “mintgate” saga after Australian TV caught him sucking on a sweet and shining the ball in the second Test of that series which led to a bizarre incident at Adelaide airport where Wadee pushed a local TV reporter who was trying to shove his microphone into the faces of the South African players.
Following the bitter stairwell incident in Durban, through the supposed shoulder charge in PE and then the sandpaper in Cape Town, Australian cricket has undertaken some major introspection that included lengthy bans for Smith, Dave Warner and Cameron Bancroft. A review into team culture is expected to be released next week. Du Plessis is aware his team will arguably be more closely monitored by the Australian media over the next three weeks than at any time previously.
“It’s a poker game also ... we expect them to try and unsettle us as team in the media. Having been at the forefront for quite a bit of it, we see it as part and parcel of playing in Australia,” said the South African captain. “I think this time around there might be one or two more traps for the players to try and stay away from.”
South Africa will play three ODI and a one-off T20 match against the Australians and Du Plessis said he’d be telling his younger players not to be put off by the raucous Aussie crowds.
“It’s not an easy place to travel. The crowds do play their part, they are like a 12th man. Your mental capabilities are just as important as your skill. For a lot of the new guys it will be the first time they will hear how ‘good’ they are as human beings. It’s the one place where it feels like the crowd really gets on top and behind the home team.”
South Africa start their tour in Canberra with a warm-up game against a Prime Minister’s XI before trekking west for the first ODI at the WACA in Perth on November 4.