South Africa have claimed the moral victory after the stairwell saga which culminated in Quinton de Kock being found guilty of a Level 1 offence, fined 25% of his Durban match fee and earning one demerit point after a hearing on Wednesday evening. Despite the sanction – which was less than David Warner’s 75% fine and three demerit points – South Africa believe they were able to “get a point across” that de Kock was responding and not instigating.
“If you know Quinton’s character, you know that he is a very quiet guy,” the captain Faf du Plessis said. “He doesn’t say a word. I struggle to get a word out of him on the field, so I know he is a very relaxed, laidback guy. The point leading up to that was a lot of stuff said to Quinton, and a lot of personal stuff. Once again, that line of where it gets personal can be talked about. But I thought he handled himself well in terms of all the stuff that was said to him as he walked off the field. Eventually he reached a point where he said enough is enough. Any guy in the world, depending on how far you pushed him, eventually he’s going to say something back. He said something back.”
De Kock admitted what he said to Warner as they left the field and entered the staircase was offensive but also claimed what was said to him by Warner was incessant and personal. “It was for them (the ICC officials) to understand that there’s a lot of things that happened before that moment,” Du Plessis said. “I just wanted to get that point across and to see if they understand that that’s the case. But according to them, you need to be accountable for your actions, and that’s fine.”
Now, South Africa can turn their attention to the advantage they have over Australia because Warner is only one offence away from a ban. Du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada are also in the same situation and as a result have been rather quiet on the field. Warner may have to be similarly vigilant, especially as South Africa could look to incite him.
“I didn’t think of it before the series,” du Plessis said. “It’s probably smart by being like that. If you can entice someone to make a mistake to get them to miss the rest of the series, that’s a tactical move. When we came into the series and I looked at the demerit points, it was all on South Africa’s side. Now that it’s happened, it’s possibly an angle we can look to get to. But it’s more about your presence on the field than the stuff that comes out of your mouth”
Like Ottis Gibson on Wednesday, du Plessis prefers aggression in action rather than words and though he sees “nothing wrong,” with chirping, would prefer South Africa to minimise their talk and maximise their walk.
“We don’t look to push that line. We don’t look to find the grey areas. For me it is very obvious, we try to play a positive brand of cricket with good body language. You look the guy in the eye and show them you are here to play today, you’re there to compete and win a game of cricket,” du Plessis said. “If you look in the past, we are not a team that flirts with that line when it comes to vocals. We try to let the cricket do the talking.”
Recently, Kagiso Rabada was disciplined for his words – once when he told Ben Stokes to “f*** off,” at Lord’s last year and then when he waved “bye, bye,” to Shikhar Dhawan during an ODI against India in February – while Imran Tahir was fined for a sledging spray on Warner during an ODI in October 2016.
But South Africa have not made a habit of launching prolonged verbal attacks on oppositions and there’s a certain naivety about their attempts at mind games. Du Plessis did not even know that the ICC guidelines stipulate that the stump microphones should be turned down when the ball is dead. Australia, on the other hand, were heard saying rival sponsors names within earshot of the stump mics during the Durban Test in an attempt to get their volume lowered.
“They are a team that have always done it [mind games] and they will always do it,” Du Plessis said. “They are not going to change overnight. They’ve always had characters in their team. It’s not even the whole team. There are just two or three guys that you can see it’s almost their job in the team, to go that route.”
Nevertheless, South Africa view Australia as their most competitive rival. “I have a lot of respect for every team that we play against,” Du Plessis said. “The style of play that that team comes with is probably the style of play that they feel they need to play at. If you play New Zealand, they are the nice guys. They’re really friendly and they don’t believe that they need to play like that. Us as a team, and me as a captain, we are very similar in that I don’t see much value in what you say on the field having an impact on the performance you have as a team. For me it’s about focusing on what sort of presence you have, what sort of body language. It’s not our style of play, but Australia probably believes that’s the way they are the best team they can be, by being that sort of team.”