Leading Edge: They don’t make Saffers and Aussies like they used to

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

AUSTRALIANS’ “personalities have changed”. These days they and South Africans “respect each other’s personal whatever”.

Those aren’t entries from the minutes of a meeting of the Great Southern Hemisphere Touchy-Feely Book Club.

Instead they are what Faf du Plessis said before embarking for Australia to try and do to Steve Smith’s test team what South Africa have done to the one-day version in recent weeks: deliver a snotklap.

Time was when a series between South Africa and Australia loomed like a dirty great tornado on the horizon, a swirling nastiness of things said and done that would never have been said and done between other protagonists.

That time was as recent as March 2014, when Dale Steyn and Michael Clarke looked more like a couple of gangsters in a dark alley than two of the most eminent cricketers of the age, and that in the full frontal glare of the Newlands test.

Less than two weeks ago, also at Newlands, even that honorary South African, Imran Tahir, looked like he might have latched an unforgiving hand around David Warner’s throat had his teammates and the umpires not put themselves in his path.

Those are examples of this rivalry at its most profane. But perhaps Du Plessis has a point and the reason they are so readily plucked from memory is because they are fewer and farther between.

Remember the days when those prime specimens of the seriousosarus rex captains used to be, Kepler Wessels and Allan Border, roamed the range with grim determination, apparently ready to bite the heads off all who dare crack a smile?

Or dark comedies like Pat Symcox having to field an entire roast chicken – wings, drumsticks, Pope’s nose and all – chucked at him from the stands at the SCG?

Or the truly, madly, deeply cheated figure of Shaun Pollock at Adelaide Oval after he was denied the wicket of Mark Waugh he had rightfully earned when Waugh, having been rapped on the forearm, turned away seemingly disorientated and dislodged a bail? Yes, Saffers disliked Aussies so much that even Pollock bounced them.

Or the ugliness of Merv Hughes interrupting his lurch up the players’ walkway at the Wanderers to heave a bat at a spectator?

Or, also at the Wanderers, posters in the crowd wondering out loud whether Adam Gilchrist’s baby had been fathered by Michael Slater?

Or Justin Langer wobbling woozily to the middle at the Wanderers to take guard after he had had his skull rattled by Makhaya Ntini? How would that go down in the post-Phil Hughes era?

Series between South Africa and Australia seemed simpler then. There was Us. There was Them. And not a lot else. Respect for each others’ personal whatever? Good luck with that.

So we have to wonder whether next month’s test series will honour the established code of misbehaviour.

If the captains are to set the example, probably not.

Du Plessis is a designer dressing gourmand hipster – vintage motorcycle and all – who only this week tweeted, “Ok so I think Adelaide is deffo in the top three cricket grounds in the world. Great facilities and fantastic food. Well done guys.”

That’s a step away from fraternising with the enemy, surely. And what the hell kind of inheritor of the mantle once worn by no less than Wessels uses a word like “deffo”?

Not that Steve Smith inspires much in the way of nastiness. At least his predecessor, Clarke, had Hilary Clinton’s disease – cold, calculating, chronically chameleonic.

Smith? Girl scouts would buy cookies from him.

No-one wants to tumble out of bed in a fog of 2am grumpiness to watch nice guys like these play nice.

Personalities have changed? Disappeared, more like.

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