Australia’s captain Steven Smith ruled a line under the Durban stairwell saga in a players-only meeting at St George’s Park on Wednesday, and said he took responsibility for both the way the team performed in a 118-run opening Test victory but also the way things were allowed to get out of hand between the vice-captain David Warner and Quinton de Kock.
Smith and his opposite number Faf du Plessis are due to meet with the umpires and the match referee Jeff Crowe on Thursday, to work to ensure the remainder of the series is played on a “hard but fair” platform agreeable to both sides. In the face of heavy criticism of the team’s behaviour from the likes of the former captain Ian Chappell, Smith said that he was proud of the fact that since the start of the ICC’s demerit points system in 2016, only twice had the Australians infringed before Durban.
But he agreed that the events of Kingsmead had to be left behind in order to successfully take advantage of the series lead won in the first Test, on a Port Elizabeth surface that features both grassy and bare patches, with the promise of more reverse swing on offer to the fast men once the ball starts to lose its shine. Australia’s team for the second Test is unchanged, though several members of the touring party are currently battling gastro.
“It sort of overshadowed what was a really good win for Australia in the first Test match. I pulled the guys together, just the playing group, and said let’s not let these incidents overshadow the way we played and get in the way of the way we want to play in this series. It’s about continuing to play a good, hard, aggressive brand but knowing we don’t want to cross the line, we want to stay within the spirit of the game and let cricket be the main thing on show. That’s what we are here to do.
“I obviously brought the boys together and told them it wasn’t ideal the things that happened last week, let’s move on from that and focus on our skill. Make sure we’re playing them on skill and not letting emotions get in the way of what we’re trying to achieve. As captain you take responsibility of your team and what’s going on, so I do take responsibility for that. Whether I could have done anything to change the events of what happened in the last Test, I’m not sure, but I do take responsibility.”
“We’re going to meet with the umpires and the match referee as well, to ensure that things don’t get out of hand. Something like this can certainly make some sparks for the rest of the series, but that’s not the way I see it and I don’t want the series to pan out that way. What happened in the last game I think both sides, or our side certainly has some regrets in the way things were done. I can’t speak for them but it’s about ensuring that cricket is the main talking point for the rest of the series.”
One issues seemingly in need of clarification is what constitutes “personal” sledging on the field. South Africa have felt that the targeting of individual players such as de Kock with comments about their appearance, weight or other areas is personal, whereas the Australians tend to view personal sledging as being about family members, as was the case with the words directed at Warner. Smith also categorically denied that Warner had said anything about de Kock’s family to spark the exchange.
“I think you know when you say something personal about someone. I think it’s reasonably obvious,” Smith said. “And what Quinton said to Davey was certainly personal. There’s no doubt about that. And I’m pleased with Davey that he stuck his hand up, said he made a mistake and he could handle things better. He’s accepted his charge and we’ll move on from that.
“In the last two years I think we’re the team with the least indiscretions – code of conduct or anything. We’ve played the game in a pretty good way. It’s the Australian way to try to play the game hard, aggressively, and stay within the boundaries. This week we probably went outside those boundaries on a couple of occasions – and that’s not what we are about.
“I know all the guys had absolutely no idea he even had a sister, so I think that’s completely fabricated and a load of garbage to be honest.”
While relations between the two sides remain frosty, Smith said he hoped that his own cordial relationship with du Plessis could be the starting point for better exchanges over the three matches still to come. “I get on well with Faf,” he said. “I’ve played IPL with Faf for a couple of years and shared plenty of dinners together and a few drinks here and there, so I get along well with Faf, there’s absolutely no problem there at all.”