It was tempting to ask the question of David Warner, who spat the dummy with Quinton de Kock after a few choice words between the pair resulted in comical hand-bagging in the stairwell at Kingsmead early in the week.
Easily the most remarkable thing about the spat between the Proteas and the Australians was the reminder that not even sport stars are exempt from prepubescent behaviour. It was stuff straight from the playground.
We see it in boxing all the time, with faux-angry stare downs and smack talk having become boringly predictable. Cricket’s on-field banter has largely been anecdotal, notwithstanding on-field microphones allowing us to sometimes eavesdrop. Unsurprisingly, Australia aren’t fans of the technology.
No-one minds a bit of fun and banter and by all accounts there has been some clever stuff down the years.
Some of it vile, too, probably because the lowest common denominator requires less thinking than a sharp-witted barb. Not all cricketers are clever.
The Proteas would have had a strategy to deal with the Australians’ sledging, presumably along the lines of being sure to get their retaliation in first. Mind games are a huge part of international sport – timid types are quickly chewed up and spat out.
It would be hard to imagine Faf du Plessis winding his neck in when Steve Smith or Usman Khawaja is at the wicket.
Even Kagiso Rabada has been known to snarl and snap, which is precisely what you want from a fast bowler.
Warner’s macho posturing is a matter of public record. “As soon as you step on that line, it’s war,” he told an interviewer during the recent Ashes series.
The difference this time was how the sledging moved from the field to something more sinister in the bowels of the stadium. This seldom happens, so whatever De Kock said to Warner about his wife must have boiled his blood.
Warner is a man who evidently has thin skin, for it takes little to get under it. He’s run the gamut of bad behaviour down the years, always playing the victim without recognising the coincidence of inevitably being the guy involved in the spat.
The sharpest response came from hard-nosed Kepler Wessels, who’s not given to indulging such prattle. “David Warner is not the scariest person I’ve ever seen,” said a man who trains with mixed martial artists for fun.
If nothing else, the contretemps helped enliven the series and perhaps even drawn in people who’d otherwise be disinterested.
The crowds in Durban were poor, so the accidental marketing won’t be a bad thing in Port Elizabeth.
The footage didn’t sommer land online either. Its release was clearly calculated to expose the Australians and put them on warning.
It showed Warner as the aggressor and, tellingly, suggests the team ethic in the Proteas is strong, what with Du Plessis gingerly bouncing around with only a towel protecting his modesty and sweet-faced Rabada playing the role of quiet strongman.
What the tape also revealed was how switched-on the Australians were.
They sought to protect Warner – from himself mostly – by getting him to back off. Warner is liable to go off at the deep end if allowed to go unchecked. He ought to thank his teammates.
The Aussies like to claim the moral high ground yet it is a philosophy constantly exposed for the lie it is. Just look at Nathan Lyon dropping the ball on a prostrate AB de Villiers. Petty doesn’t begin to describe it. And fair it ain’t.
Graeme Smith was on the money when he said Warner shouldn’t have been surprised that the SA players reacted, as he’s a serial offender.
If the Proteas are smart, they’ll continue to give Warner the needle.
As vice-captain – and prickly to boot – he’s a natural target. No-one wants the jousting to get physical, and De Kock must keep calm. but the psychological war both teams thrive on is well worth contesting.