Bittersweet ending looms for triumphant tour

Sunday Times


APPARENTLY none of the South Africans who submitted to the ubiquitous bag check on Saturday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where Faf du Plessis captained his team in a dress rehearsal for the third test, had mints confiscated.

Perhaps they hid them well enough. Like under their tongues. Not on top.

Now there’s a lesson Du Plessis should learn for the next time he licks a finger and polishes the ball.

That could happen in Adelaide on Thursday – when South Africa will try to complete a 3-0 thrashing of Australia, who will be on a mission to stem the bleeding that has turned the game in this country a whiter shade of pale and miserable.

Unless Du Plessis is banned for allegedly using artificial aids – sugar, in this case – to keep the ball shiny.

Television footage taken on Tuesday, the last day of the Hobart test, showed something that looked ominously like a mint or a sweet on Du Plessis’ tongue as he opened his mouth to insert a finger, which he then slapped onto the ball in the time-honoured fashion.

And that’s illegal. Should the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Cricket South Africa get their lawyers in a row in time to hold a hearing before Thursday, Du Plessis, who has pled not guilty to the charge, could be barred from playing in Adelaide.

That would be a shame. Du Plessis, South Africa’s best captain since Graeme Smith retired prematurely in March 2014, deserves sumptuous accolades for engineering South Africa’s triumph.

The very thought that oh captain, their captain could be denied his due by “Lollyline” flushed the South Africans out of their dressingroom on Friday.

Even a man as unruffled as Hashim Amla veered into his upper octave to use words like “farcical”, “ridiculous” and “joke” to describe the furore.

Behind Amla as he fuelled the fire stood the rest of the South African squad, stoic and silent.

From South Africa came howls of social media outrage.

Smith harrumphed: “The ICC is going to ruin our game!”

Dale Steyn, marooned on the couch with his surgically repaired shoulder, offered an elongated haiku: “Beaten with the bat. Beaten with the ball. Beaten in the field. Mentally stronger. Here’s an idea – let’s blame it on a lollipop.”

He added that he was not “blaming the Aussies”, who have not uttered a word about this. But whispers from their dressingroom are that Amla’s strongly expressed sentiments had heads nodding in agreement.

Steyn continued: “But I won’t let a fantastic series win be tarnished by some lollipop fabrication.”

What Steyn wants and what he gets may be starkly different.

Television news crews have been camped outside the South African squad’s hotel. On Saturday as the players left for the MCG to play a pink-ball, day/night match against a Victoria XI – which was drawn with Tabraiz Shamsi taking 4/72 – a microphone and questions were thrust at Du Plessis after team management asked for that not to happen.

And all that ahead of a dead rubber that, a few days ago, was interesting only because it will be South Africa’s first day/night test.

But wait. There’s more.

Other footage has emerged. It shows David Warner, also during the Hobart test, applying what looks like lip balm to his mouth.

Seconds later he puts his hand to his mouth and, using the same hand, then polishes the ball.

Stand back. We don’t know how big this thing will get.


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