Proteas bowlers, not hecklers, should target Smith and Warner

Proteas bowlers, not hecklers, should target Smith and Warner
Steve Smith, left, and David Warner of Australia. (Photo: Harry Trump / Getty Images)

Steve Smith and David Warner will be targets of vitriol from South African fans when they face the Proteas over the next two weeks, but it’s the Proteas bowlers, and not fans, who need to hit the mark against two of the world’s best batsmen.

The last time Australia played at the Wanderers was in late March 2018, and there was a pall over the Bullring. The cricketing world was still coming to terms with the “sandpaper gate” scandal that saw Australia captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft kicked off the tour with the visitors 2-1 down in the series.

At the Wanderers, the fourth Test of what had been a compelling contest felt like a facsimile of the real thing. Australia fielded a new-look team and under difficult circumstances Tim Paine began his career as Test captain. Naturally, the shell-shocked Aussies were blown away, losing by a mammoth 492 runs as South Africa clinched a 3-1 series win.

Bancroft was caught on camera using sandpaper to alter the state of the ball during South Africa’s second innings in the third Test at Newlands. Smith was guilty of not controlling his team while Warner was fingered as one of the instigators of the ploy. It was his coercion over Bancroft that was the most unpalatable aspect of the whole sorry debacle.

The three players were all suspended for a year and have since returned to the national side. Bancroft was unable to resurrect his career during the 2019 Ashes, but Smith and Warner picked up where they left off by plundering runs throughout last winter and this summer.

Almost two years on and the wheel has turned. South African cricket is in turmoil while Australian cricket has healed and come back stronger. Smith and Warner are back in the Australian squad for the coming T20 and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) against the Proteas adorned with accolades.

Warner, who scored a triple century in the recent series against Pakistan, was awarded the Allan Border Medal – Australia’s highest individual cricketing honour. He won it by one vote over Smith, who tormented England during the 2019 Ashes in England.

The pair are not close mates and they have vastly different batting styles. But when it comes to commonality, they score massive amounts of runs and have a desire and hunger to be in the fight for long periods.

Warner, who was also the leading T20 run-scorer in Australia this summer, is in ominously good form. He scores his runs quickly and relishes the limited-over format.

He scored 647 runs at the 2019 ICC World Cup at an average of 71.8, which included three centuries in the tournament. In Tests, against Pakistan he scored a Test-best 335 not out in the day/night match at the Adelaide oval in late 2019.

In all formats of the international game during the 2019 calendar year, Warner scored 1,815 runs at an average of 69.81 while Smith scored 1,553 runs at 62.12.

Clearly their year out of the game did nothing to diminish their hunger for runs and if anything, gave them a greater desire to score more. Smith and Warner might have left South Africa in disgrace two years ago, but they return in form and fully reintegrated into the Australian game.

Warner and Smith were booed constantly last winter during the World Cup and Ashes Tour in England. Warner failed with the bat in the Ashes, but he scored plenty in the World Cup while Smith was the top scorer during the Ashes series.

The pair have been forgiven in their homeland, but when they enter the Bullring on Friday for the first T20, the raucous crowd won’t be offering polite applause and an olive branch. The Aussie duo can expect the crowd to heckle them mercilessly.

Aussie coach Justin Langer played a straight bat to suggestions his two-star batsmen would bear the brunt of South Africa’s boo brigade during the tour.

“It was a tough (England) tour for those two guys,” said Langer shortly after the Australian team’s arrival on Monday.

“I was really proud of the way they let their bat do the talking and were great ambassadors off the field, so hopefully they’ll be looking forward to getting back into it and playing good cricket here.”

Captain Aaron Finch though, said the players expected a warm reception. “South African crowds are very passionate and very vocal. We’re expecting that. David loves that banter coming from the crowd. It gets him into the game. I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to our group. We’re going to play cricket with a smile on our face,” he said.

Cricket South Africa (CSA), expecting the worst, have asked local crowds to treat the two players with respect. They probably have more chance of wiping out their R654-million projected loss by Friday than the Wanderers crowd adhering to that plea.

“I would plead with South African fans to respect our opponents and don’t go overboard with these things,” acting CSA chief executive Jacques Faul said.

“It’s competitive on the field, and we don’t need it. Sport in general doesn’t need that behaviour. We have a very strict policy in terms of fan behaviour and we will evacuate people, but the damage will have been done.”

Former Aussie skipper Steve Waugh took a different view though, almost challenging South African fans to heckle the two players because it would only serve to motivate them against the Proteas.

“They’ll welcome it (heckling) with open arms,” Waugh said at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin on Monday. “There’ll be a few comments, and that’s all part of the game.

“They’ll expect it. They got that in England it didn’t work. Look at Steve Smith in that first Test match at Edgbaston… the crowds were booing him constantly and he got 140 in each innings. I’d say to South African crowds ‘go for it’ because it will motivate these players and they’ll score runs.”

Proteas rebuild continues

The Proteas can’t control the crowd and their reactions and they’ll do well not to focus on the reception given to Warner and Smith, but rather on ploys to remove to the two batsmen as cheaply as possible.

After losing the recent Test, ODI and T20 series against England, the Proteas need some good news against their old foes after a summer of turmoil on and off the field.

Two years of CSA mismanagement came to a head in December 2019 when Chief Executive Thabang Moroe tried to ban journalists critical of CSA from attending domestic Mzansi Super League T20 matches.

The fallout came after criticism of the handling of an impasse with the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca), which filed court papers against CSA to show cause over its decision to restructure domestic cricket. Standard Bank promptly announced they would no longer sponsor cricket when their current contract expires and Momentum threatened the same if there wasn’t change at board level.

Those body blows came a year after CSA announced, in late 2018, that it projected a R654-million loss over the next four years. These incidents and other problems eventually led to Maroe’s suspension in December 2019 and the resignation of four board members. Faul was made acting CEO with Graeme Smith appointed as acting director of cricket.

It’s little wonder the Proteas have struggled on the field, but they need to find a way to forget about the constant structural and operational issues plaguing the sport and win a series with the T20 World Cup looming later in 2020.

Coach Mark Boucher admitted that his first foray into international coaching has been difficult. But he remained positive that the nucleus of a good team has begun to take shape.

“With regards to Test cricket‚ we are a long way off the mark and we need to work hard there‚ especially in our batting‚” Boucher said at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Wednesday. “Our batting let us down during the series and the guys need to get some confidence and up their level of skill.

“In ODI cricket‚ it is a very young side and we rested a few players. It was a good opportunity to rest some seniors and we are happy with the way that went. We are in a stage where‚ I don’t want to call it rebuilding‚ but it is, in a way. We gave opportunities to guys to stand up and fight for places.

“If there is a chance to give guys opportunities‚ then we must and I think that is important. Looking forward to the T20 World Cup later in the year‚ I think we have some great options available to us and that is something exciting.”

There were signs in three highly competitive and entertaining T20s against England that progress in the shortest format of the game is gathering momentum.

Captain Quinton de Kock’s batting form has been exceptional with Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen and Heinrich Klaasen offering strong batting support. Bavuma, though, will miss Friday’s match due to a hamstring strain.

On the upside Faf du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje have been added to bolster the squad. It’s the first time in nearly four years that Du Plessis won’t be playing as skipper, having stood down from the role earlier this week.

“The T20 series (against England) may not have been won, but it was really pleasing to see our batting unit play so well,” convenor of selectors Linda Zondi said.

“They showed a lot of aggression, particularly upfront and in every match. It set a good foundation for the rest of the line-up to follow. The very exciting bursts of cricket that we were served up bode very well for the future, especially in the short term as we begin our hunt in earnest for the T20 World Cup squad.

“As a selection panel, we are happy with the team that we have finalised for the Australia tour. We are confident that the return of Kagiso (Rabada) and Anrich (Nortje) will provide the boost that the bowling unit needs in order to return to its dangerous ways and that the experience of Faf (du Plessis) will add an extra dimension to the batting unit’s already fledgling prowess.” DM

Australia tour to South Africa itinerary:

Friday 21 February, 1st T20I — Wanderers, Johannesburg.

Sunday 23 February, 2nd T20I — St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth.

Wednesday, 26 February, 3rd T20I — Newlands, Cape Town.


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