“How tough is the crowd going to be?” At each media interview involving the Australian squad, whether it be a coach or player, it’s been similar“
As much as the players on the field, it will be the 25 000 or so spectators off it who will be primary actors in the opening scenes of the limited overs series between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers this evening.
The small contingent of Australian media following their team around have all asked their local colleagues versions of the same question this past week: “How tough is the crowd going to be?” At each media interview involving the Australian squad, whether it be a coach or player, it’s been similar: “Are you expecting a tough time from the crowd?”
The Wanderers crowd is a key part of the narrative that will unfold today. They’ve made it that way with some bad behaviour over the years – dating back to 1994 when Merv Hughes swung his bat at “fans” who wanted a word about his attitude, to last month when England’s Ben Stokes asked a spectator to join him outside after he’d taken umbrage to being compared to popstar Ed Sheerhan.
Today’s match is Australia’s first in South Africa since the sandpaper affair in 2018. In the Test match at the Wanderers that followed the unfolding of that scandal, Australia’s players were subjected to some minor chirps, but the Australia XI for that match didn’t have Steve Smith and David Warner, who’d by then been suspended by Cricket Australia.
Today both will take to the field. How the crowd react to them will be almost as interesting as the cricket itself. Both have said that they don’t care what gets said to them.
Quinton de Kock said yesterday, that the relations between certain players had thawed since 2018. He didn’t think the rivalry would get out of hand as it did two years ago, but he also couldn’t guarantee it.
“I don’t think (any ill-feeling still exists from 2018) but if something ignites from us or from them, I don’t know. If a player decides to take on another player, that fierceness from both teams will reignite, you never know, maybe we just continue to play the game hard.”
Besides all the macho drama, there is a cricket match that will take place, the prospect of which is pretty enticing.
Australia have won seven of their last eight T20s, only missing out on a full-house because of a rained out encounter against Pakistan last November. South Africa’s form hasn’t been as consistent – two wins out of six matches this season – although they drew more positives than negatives out of the series defeat against England.
They’ve welcomed back Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada who were both given extended period of rest after the Test matches against England.
“(Faf) is excited about going forward now,” De Kock said of the former skipper who will play his first match as just an ordinary member of the side.
“We’ve had a chat and he understands he still has a big role to play for us, he’s a senior player and he’s still seen as a leader by all of us.”
De Kock would not discuss the option of Du Plessis opening the innings alongside him, outside of saying he and coach Mark Boucher had already made up their minds.
But whoever it is will have some big boots to fill given Temba Bavuma’s recent success in that position.