DURBAN – Mothers, sisters and wives don’t normally have a place in the middle of a Test match, but when teams go by the adage “whatever means necessary”, that is the murky pit where conversations between cricketers descend to.
David Warner’s emotional reaction was deemed as understandable by Australian skipper Steve Smith, but for the tourists to suggest that the distasteful dialogue was a one-way street is rather duplicitous.
What happened in the staircase leading up to the team dressing-rooms at Kingsmead was but a microcosm of what generally occurs on the field of play, anyway – without the threat of actual violence.
That scuffle certainly was an extension of the conversation that had played out for over an hour in the post-lunch session, with Australian players swarming South African batsmen with advice and choice words.
Essentially, that “chatter” is part of the game, all within the line that Australia like to say they “headbutt” from time to time.
Only, on Sunday, they butted into a Quinton de Kock who had obviously had enough, and he butted back.
Players barb each other, looking for whatever little advantage they can get, in order to get one over the opposition, especially when a seemingly foregone result appears to be turning on its head.
It happens in international matches, just as it happens in club matches on a Sunday morning.
Now it even happens in Under-9 matches on school fields, because children are the ultimate imitators.
That is the human element of a game played between combustible characters. If you push someone far enough, you will eventually get the outburst that you are looking for.
Mitchell Starc got little out of Theunis de Bruyn, but Warner and De Kock gave each other both barrels.
And, to be frank, there will be other confrontations over the next three Test matches, because these are two teams filled with players who seldom turn the other cheek.
Faf du Plessis said it is “big men playing professional sport”, but some of the sniping comments exchanged appear rather juvenile on the surface.
This incident confirms that, in the heat of battle, it doesn’t take much to push people over the edge.
The ugly spat has also reiterated that though you may be able to turn the stump-mic off between balls, you cannot put a switch on the emotional swell between two rivals going hammer and tongs at each other.
It spikes sporadically, and there is no telling which of the 22 players will instigate it.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) is in a corridor of genuine uncertainty on this, because it happened off the field, even if sparked by matters on it.
The umpires were within earshot, but they probably hear a lot worse in between deliveries.
So, then, where is this mystical line that players and officials speak about being crossed? Who defines it?
Everyone talks about it being a barometer of conduct, but it is routinely trampled when the red mist descends.
International players have been sanctioned for a lot less than what went on in the staircase at Kingsmead on Sunday afternoon. Banned even.
It will be most revealing to see what stance the ICC take on this, given that both on-field umpires were within earshot of the entire exchange.
What goes on the field stays on the field, they say.
Yeah right, mate!