Confrontation in players’ tunnel at SAfrica-Australia test

Australia's batsman David Warner leaves the field after being dismissed by South Africa's bowler Kagiso Rabada, for 28 runs on day three of the first cricket test match between South Africa and Australia at Kingsmead stadium in Durban, South Africa, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) Despite initial reassurances from members of both teams that the game was being played in the right spirit, the on-field aggression spilled over in the first test between South Africa and Australia, with video footage emerging of an ugly confrontation between players on a staircase leading to the dressing rooms.

The incident involved Australia’s David Warner and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock as players came off for the tea break during the fourth day’s play on Sunday. Leaked stadium security camera footage shows Warner being held back by teammates while he directs comments toward de Kock as players walk up a staircase that leads to both dressing rooms.

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis then emerges from the dressing room area wearing just a towel around his waist to apparently try and calm the situation. Australia captain Steve Smith and other teammates are also trying to defuse the situation and calm Warner.

The incident started out of the view of the camera and it’s unclear what sparked it, but it’s given a sour feel to the start of a four-test series between teams who both play an aggressive brand of cricket, but had to admit after the video footage was leaked to the media overnight in Durban that the war-of-words had clearly crossed the line.

Players on both teams could face disciplinary procedures, with the incident being looked at by match officials.

While on-field comments intended to unsettle the opposition are common in test cricket, and even has a term dedicated to it – ”sledging” – the exchange between Warner and de Kock appears to have got personal, with family members brought into it.

Warner is alleged to have made comments about de Kock’s mother and sister on the field while de Kock was batting, and de Kock apparently responded with comments concerning Warner’s wife, leading to the staircase incident.

”Obviously Quinton got quite personal and provoked quite a personal response from Davey (Warner),” Australia captain Smith said. ”Those things are not on from both sides.”

While doing their best to play down the incident, the teams disagreed on the level of Australia’s on-field aggression during South Africa’s second innings, though. Smith denied his team made ”personal” comments about de Kock, while South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis said it was, indeed, personal on the field.

Whatever provoked the confrontation off the field, it’s highlighted again the place of sledging in cricket, and it’s not the first time that a test has been undermined by the verbal battle.

Interestingly, South Africa batsman Aiden Markram and Australia wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who both were present during the Warner-de Kock confrontation on the staircase, said later the same day that there was nothing out-of-hand with the on-field verbals.

Both teams had to backtrack on that, though, when the video came to light later when the CCTV camera footage was leaked to a South African media outlet.

Cricket South Africa and Cricket Australia said they were both were aware of the incident and awaiting more details. The incident is being investigated, first by the match officials and then, possibly, by the International Cricket Council if the governing body feels it needs to explore it further.

”It’s rather unfortunate that the incident took place and certainly not in the spirit of the game,” South Africa team manager Mohammed Moosajee said. ”The match referee had spoken to us after the day’s play.”

The fourth day of the first test was characterized by on-field aggression from the Australian bowlers and fielders, who were in firm control of the test at that point and rounded off a 118-run win on Monday.

Warner was at the center of a loud, taunting celebration by the Australians when South Africa’s top batsman, AB de Villiers, was run out for a duck earlier in the day. Australia spin bowler Nathan Lyon also was charged by the ICC – and later fined 15 percent of his match fee – for his role in celebrating de Villiers’ dismissal, when he intentionally dropped the ball on de Villiers as the South African lay on the ground.

Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc and South Africa batsman Theunis de Bruyn had a series of exchanges during one over, and Starc was apparently involved in a verbal altercation with some supporters near the boundary during the day’s play.

Yet, despite the embarrassing incident and the clearly bitter feel to the four-test contest now, there was no sign that the sledging would slow down.

”I think that’s how we play our best cricket,” Aussie skipper Smith said. ”We’re aggressive … we’re hunting as a pack.”

Du Plessis said: ”If I play cricket against Australia I expect it. If I don’t hear it, I’m disappointed.”