CAPE TOWN – There’s still one game to go, but it has already been the mother of all Test series between the Proteas and Australia.
In yet another breathtaking day of red-ball cricket on Sunday, it was the South Africans who triumphed by a huge 322-run margin.
But before Capetonians could even finish their koesiesters ahead of the first ball of the day, there was drama as Cricket Australia announced that Steve Smith and David Warner had stood down as captain and vice-captain respectively following the Cameron Bancroft ball-tampering incident.
During the afternoon there was another development on what should now be termed “Tapegate”, with the ICC announcing that Smith had been suspended for one Test and given four demerit points and a fine of 100% of his match fee, while Bancroft received three demerit points and a 75% fine.
But at least the cricket took centre-stage after tea, with the Proteas – sparked by captain Faf du Plessis’ incredible run out of Bancroft – ran through the Australian batting line-up to dismiss them for just 107, after they were 57/0.
The Proteas are 2-1 up heading into the final Test at the Wanderers, which starts on Good Friday, but Du Plessis was in some disbelief at the pace with which the series has unfolded.
“Bizarre, crazy… We joke about it, it’s literally like a soap opera. There’s something happening every day, and it is – we’ve said it a lot as captains – it is a shame because this has been an incredible series,” he said at the post-match press conference.
“Two very, very strong teams. Apart from probably today, it’s been very, very evenly matched series so far, and it’s been amazing to watch. But there are way too many things happening away from the game that’s taking the shine away.”
And one of those things that arguably kicked off the animosity between the two teams – or rather took Australia into overdrive on the aggression front – was “Warnergate”, when Warner confronted Quinton de Kock on the stairs at Kingsmead.
While the Australians openly speak about trying to get under the skin of the opposition, Warner exploded when he got some back from De Kock – with rumours abound that the Proteas wicket-keeper had said something about Warner’s wife Candice’s “encounter” with Sonny Bill Williams all those years ago.
That was allegedly in retaliation for Warner insulting De Kock’s mother and sister.
Whatever was said, it certainly had a galvanising effect on the Proteas.
“We were very motivated before the series, and as a team, we expected the style of play that Australia were going to come with. But definitely after that first Test, there was a lot of – I wouldn’t say frustration – but more motivation,” Du Plessis said.
“The guys were really pumped up after what happened there, and you shouldn’t probably need more motivation as it’s there already.
“But honestly after that game, I could feel that the guys were super-pumped. Normally three or four guys want to take on the game, but it felt like all 11 of the guys were really hungry to make the play.”
Du Plessis, though, revelled in the joy of victory as he sat alongside Man-of-the-Match Morné Morkel, who took 5/23 in the second innings on Sunday.
“For me, there’s no buts. I look at the amazing achievement over four days, the way we applied pressure to the Australian team in all facets of the game,” Du Plessis said.
“What we tried to do today was to make them aware there is a lot of pressure on them. A lot of noise that’s probably going on inside their heads.
“Trying to get to that space where it’s not just about just watching the ball and hitting the ball, it’s about a lot of other things, trying to get to a place where you think their brains will go even more over the top (in) thinking about things away from the game.”
For a sombre-looking Tim Paine – announced as the stand-in captain for Sunday’s play – things couldn’t get worse.
“It has been a horrible 24 hours. It was extremely difficult, but it’s no excuse for what happened,” he said.
“We’re still the Australian cricket team and we’re expected to put up a better effort than we did today.
“Certainly it was in some horrible circumstances and probably some circumstances we brought on ourselves.”