DURBAN – In the end, the first Test between South Africa and Australia descended into a case of ‘he said, therefore he said’. Grown men explaining juvenile behaviour away by provocation.
This is not the look Test cricket was going for when this series was billed as the last of the summer fruit. Australia won by 118 runs, but it was almost forgotten in the final frenzy.
The sight of grown men being restrained from going at another, allegations of personal jibes that honed in on family members and personal looks, and language so colourful that you have to wonder if people were at war, instead of sincere sporting combat.
All of it, it is not supposed to be cricket. It belongs in late-night bars, where morals are overtaken by motives. But that is where this Test between two proud nations has been dragged down to.
“Every single match you play against Australia, you expect it,” Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis said of the verbal animosity. “If I play against Australia and I don’t hear the aggression, I get very disappointed. For me, that’s part of the game.
“I don’t decide where the line is. With the way we play our cricket against them, we expect it and it’s just a normal day’s business for us.”
Sunday was ‘normal’ until David Warner was flying off the handle, trying to get at Quinton de Kock, because of a personal remark by the keeper/batsman as they went off for tea.
Australia have since sought to take the moral high ground, suggesting that De Kock’s quip was the fuse to the explosion.
“Obviously Quinton got quite personal and provoked an emotional response from David and I think those things are not on from both sides.
“Getting personal on the field is not on and it’s crossing the line in my opinion,” Steve Smith argued.
It was quite a stance, considering that several with access to the unfiltered contents of the stump-mic during the day confirmed that Australia had been far from angelic in their behaviour.
De Kock’s family came up, amongst other things, and it is little surprise that he eventually snapped.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it was personal, but Faf can say what he likes. That’s from my opinion and what I’ve heard from the guys as well. I don’t think we were personal,” Smith maintained, when pressed to respond to Du Plessis’ suggestion that it was a two-way street.
The insinuation, then, was that Warner’s conduct was still within the mystical ‘line’ that cannot be crossed. At least from Australia anyway.
Du Plessis was adamant that it is something from both sides, and that those who give it must be able to handle the fire when it is shot back to them.
Warner, it is understood by Independent Media, had led an hour-long attack on the field, and video footage shows him clearly engaging De Kock as they went up to their respective dressing-rooms.
Somewhere between the field and the team sheds, De Kock said something that hit home to Warner, who was seen to make a U-turn and try and get at De Kock.
He was restrained by Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine, while De Kock smirked his way up the steps.
The spotlight is firmly on the match officials now, because both on-field umpires were just behind De Kock and Warner when they left the playing field.
They were still with them at the foot of the steps, so it is highly unlikely that they didn’t hear some of the consternation, if not all of it.
“The umpires play a big role in that, to make sure you don’t let it get to that stage. There’ve been a lot of games where our bowlers have been penalised when they step over that line,” Du Plessis said of the policing of such things.
Smith, meanwhile, maintained that it was part and parcel of the Australian way.
“We play our best cricket when we’re aggressive and hunting as a pack. We’re working for each other and backing our mates out on the field. That’s part of being an Australian, in my opinion.
“I’m comfortable with where it’s all at. It’s all about ensuring that we stay within the spirit of the game,” Smith reasoned.
Quite where that spirit currently sits is a matter of patriotic perspective, and the International Cricket Council has 48 hours to make sense of it all.
It is the most anticipated review of the season.