The short, sharp nature of the upcoming white-ball series between South Africa and Australia may rob the teams of the time required to recreate the drama of 2018, according to one of its chief protagonists, David Warner.
A little less than two years ago, when Australia toured South Africa for a four-Test series, Warner was involved in tense on- and off-field battles with the opposition and their fans, culminating in the ball-tampering scandal that saw him, Steven Smith and Cameron Bancroft hit with lengthy bans – but he doesn’t expect anything similar this time.
“It’s one-day cricket and Twenty20 cricket and you don’t really have much time over the short period of the time to get underneath each other’s skin or anything like that,” Warner said. “And you don’t go out there to do that. Obviously they [South Africa] had some heated exchanges with the English and that was during the Test matches. For us, our focus is moving forward and trying to get the wins on the board and send a message to everyone that the World Cup is in our backyard and we want to be a team to be beaten.”
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South Africa’s new white-ball captain, Quinton de Kock was not quite so sure of the same.
“If something ignites, maybe if a player decides to take on another player, then maybe the fierceness from both of teams will reignite again,” de Kock said. “Who knows? Maybe not. Maybe we just play the game hard but not with you know…”
De Kock was the catalyst for the “you know” last time, when he said something to Warner as they walked off the field for tea during the Kingsmead Test. By then, de Kock had taken sustained abuse from Warner about everything from his appearance to his weight, in silence, until at the last moment, he lashed out. De Kock’s comment was never fully made public but the Australian camp said it was personal and the South African crowd believed it had to do with Warner’s wife, Candice, and a previous liaison.
As the matter snowballed, de Kock is understood to have wanted to seek out Candice Warner to personally apologise, but didn’t get the chance.
Has he done so since, to either of the Warners? “We haven’t really had any conversations. Me and him have moved on from there,” de Kock said. “We look to just play cricket. We both love to play the game really hard. I don’t think anything will happen. We will just carry on. We won’t worry too much about it.”
Warner expects an equally cordial relationship with de Kock. “I don’t have his number and I speak to a few of the South African guys but I’ve never played in the same team as him or anything like that,” Warner said. “Obviously it’s a little bit different. I’m sure if I see him on the field and that we’ll just treat each other how we normally would as respectful opponents.”
Ultimately, respect is what Warner wants from all involved, chiefly the South African fans who were very much part of the 2018 fracas. Their taunting of Candice was condemned as sexist. Asked if he expects more of the same, Warner hoped that would not be the case and reminded spectators that they have responsibilities as well.
“For me, it’s about you’ve got to have some form of respect as well,” Warner said. “It was poor and from my behalf, it’s about moving forward. If people want to go to the game and carry on like that, then it’s upon themselves, and they’ve got to look at themselves in the mirror and if they want to act like that, so be it.
“It doesn’t bother me but it shows at the end of the day. They’re representing their country as well, they’re spectators watching a game of cricket, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be walking away here with teams criticising the way that their fans are acting, it’s up to them. We’ve got to come here and put our best foot forward and try and win the game.”
So far, though, Warner’s experience of being back in South Africa has been positive, despite the painful memories. “Obviously echoing Steve’s words yesterday, about walking into first the airport and then walking into here, obviously the memories weren’t great,” he said. “But the last few days, every single person that we’ve come across that’s asked for a photo, or that we’ve come into contact with or spoken to, have had nothing but great words to say and welcoming us to the country and being really, really polite.
“It’s been incredible how much support we’ve had from people in the public. I just played golf and they went over and above to make us feel more welcome. It’s actually a great feeling.”