Mitchell Starc's fiery spells with the old ball, Mitchell Marsh's exquisite first innings 96, Aiden Markram's counter-attack alongside Quinton de Kock. There was quite a lot of cricketing action for the memoirs from the Durban Test between Australia and South Africa. Yet at the end of five engrossing days, the discussion that hogged headlines was a backroom altercation between David Warner and de Kock at the tea break on Day 4.
Hear what David Warner said to Quinton de Kock and listen to what KG Rabada responded with.
Audio contains explicit language. pic.twitter.com/Pj86l0d9kK
— Simmi Areff (@simmiareff) March 5, 2018
Apparently, de Kock had instigated Warner with a few personal jibes and given the feisty character the Aussie opener is, a verbal barrage followed while the players were walking back to the dressing room at the stroke of tea.
The CCTV footage capturing the heated squabble between the two was first aired by independent media and garnered a lot of attention on social media.
It has, however, emerged that Warner started the whole feud by calling de Kock a “bushpig” and commenting on his sister and mother, a taunt to which the South African wicketkeeper retorted by picking on Warner's wife.
Warner, renamed the 'reverend’ by Australian teammates following his change to a more calm personality in recent times, seemingly shed that avatar during this Test as he had a real go at Markram following AB de Villiers’ run out in the second innings. This was followed by the dressing room fiasco which did not make for good viewing.
Quite a few people slammed Warner on social media despite Steve Smith insisting that the instigator was de Kock. Whoever started the ugly brawl, the Australian opener had done enough to get under the skin of the Proteas as Graeme Smith pointed out in a banter with Adam Gilchrist on Twitter.
Gilly- Warner crossed many personal boundaries with the South Africans, so we can’t be surprised when there is eventually a reaction. If players are happy to give it,they have to be prepared to take it,too. On both sides!
But agreed not a good look. #SAvsAUS https://t.co/obTo0GO2H8
— Graeme Smith (@GraemeSmith49) March 5, 2018
However, it was Faf du Plessis’ reaction to the whole incident that highlighted a bigger picture that was missed by quite a few.
“If I played Australia and I didn't hear anything, I would be disappointed,” du Plessis quipped at the post-match press conference.
The statement just emphasises the general opinion teams have of Australia and their cricket. They have this long-standing practice of mincing no words on a cricket field and using words to intimidate the opposition, a tactic Steve Waugh famously described as a “mental disintegration”.
“Don’t the Australians usually have the clamp on the opposition’s throat?” Russell Crowe had said on air during a Test match at Cardiff in 2009.
According to the “mental disintegration” theory of the Aussies, you weather down the opposition by constantly being in their face with words, taunts and remarks, putting them off their game plan, a “clamp” of sorts. There are several incidents from the history books which show this shrewd tactic being employed by the Aussies, often painting them in bad light.
England and South Africa have at most times been at the receiving end of Australia's indignation. One remembers the famous Daryll Cullinan-Shane Warne strife and how the Australian ruled over the South African middle-order batsman.
“Shane Warne owned the headspace of Daryll Cullinan, one of South Africa's better batsmen of the 1990s, and they both knew it. Every time Cullinan made his way to the crease when the ball was in Shane's sizeable grasp, we could see him shrinking both mentally and physically with each painstaking step, as if the inevitable guillotine was hovering above. It was always just a matter of time” Steve Waugh wrote in his book The Meaning of Luck.
The book also highlights how Courtney Walsh and South African Nantie Hayward were subject to some extreme short stuff by the Aussies and backed off. Michael Vaughan describes another incident from the 2002 Ashes series where his men were greeted by unusually strong warm-up teams prior to the first Test. England withered against Martin Love, Michael Slater and Andrew Symonds, and Steve Waugh and his team watched from the sidelines to pile on the visitor's misery.
“We were out there, mid-afternoon on the second day and Steve just walked his team the whole way around the boundary as if to say ‘if you’re spending a day-and-a-half in the field against that lot, just look what you’re going to be playing against next week’. I’ve never seen an England team with frightened eyes like it,” Vaughan said on his BBC 5 Live podcast.
The heirloom has been passed through generations and Warner, Nathan Lyon and Starc just carry forward the tradition that is quintessential to Australia's game.
Warner was over the top from the word go in this Test match as was Lyon, who earned demerit points for a level one offence. The off-spinner was seen dropping the ball alarmingly close to de Villiers following the batsman's run out in the second innings.
Warner, who triggered the dismissal with a sharp piece of fielding, was seen scowling and shouting at Markram at the other end to put him off his game. “We spoke to Aiden about running out their best player and one of the best players in the world. It was a huge wicket and to have him (de Villiers) run out for zero gets everyone excited and the boys were pumped up. It was nothing aggressive, just reminding him of what he had done to get him off his game... it didn't work,” Australian wicket-keeper Tim Paine said at the end of Day 4.
A fired up Warner would go on to try and unsettle de Kock at the stroke of tea with apparent comments on his sister and mother and the South African minced no words either, resulting in an ugly exchange of words in the stairway to the dressing room.
Between the two incidents was a fiery spell from Starc where he threw verbal assaults at a young Theunis de Bruyn during the batsman's enterprising stand with Markram on Day 4. Starc had made his intentions clear in the warm-up match preceding the first Test itself, where he had a real go at Wiaan Mulder, the 20-year-old all-rounder who earned a call-up to the Test side for this series.
"I think we were certainly very chirpy on the field as well. That's the way we play our best cricket, when we're aggressive and in a fight together and hunting in a pack. That's part of being an Australian,” Smith remarked crudely in the post-match press conference.
Given Australia's and Warner’s own history, the unfolding of the aforementioned events is hardly surprising. It is just the manner in which Australia find their feet in a Test series and like Smith stated, that is when they play their “best cricket”.
The Warner/De Kock certainly adds more spice to the rest of the series. As if it needed any more
— JT (@jt715) March 5, 2018
Given the mauling they gave South Africa at Durban, are the fans complaining of their behaviour? As long as they “headbutt” the line and not cross it and it helps to work over the opposition, Australia should probably not worry of changing their long-standing methods.
“As soon as you step on that line it’s war,” Warner had controversially commented prior to the Ashes in December. As long as they churn out memorable wins like the one at Durban, Aussie fans will keep chanting the age-old adage of “all is fair in love and war”. But the Warner-de Kock saga leaves a bad taste in the mouth and Australia might want to tread carefully along the lines as they look to “mentally disintegrate" the Proteas.