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Bitter South Africa-Australia battle goes to ‘friendly city’

March 8, 2018

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Match referee Jeff Crowe called the captains and managers of the South Africa and Australia cricket teams to a meeting on Thursday on the eve of the second test in Port Elizabeth in an attempt to restore calm to an ill-tempered test series that is just one match in.

Crowe may be hoping that Port Elizabeth’s nickname — ‘the friendly city’ — will rub off on the players.

This contest has become even more bitter than usual after an on-field war-of-words spilled over in the first test. Australia vice-captain David Warner and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock became involved in an ugly off-field confrontation on a staircase outside the team dressing rooms during a break in play.

The incident, which followed other verbal exchanges between players during the series opener in Durban, earned Warner and de Kock fines and disciplinary sanctions from the International Cricket Council, and threatens to overshadow the cricket.

Crowe asked for the meeting of captains and managers just three days on from the acrimonious game in Durban, where Australia won by 118 runs.

The teams — especially South Africa, which trails 1-0 in the series — must re-focus for the test at St. George’s Park. An Australia victory would ensure the tourists cannot lose the four-match series and would mean another failure for South Africa, which hasn’t beaten Australia in a series at home since 1970.

“The team morale is very good,” South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said. “We back each other up. We are trying to focus on ourselves. ... All the off-field stuff must remain off the field. We want to get back to the cricket.”

Yet, despite utterances from both team’s management that the cricket must and will take center stage again, the Warner-de Kock affair rumbles on.

Warner defended his actions in the staircase incident in an interview posted on Cricket Australia’s website on Thursday. In the incident , which was caught on a stadium security camera, a clearly furious Warner is seen directing comments at de Kock while being restrained by some teammates.

The Australia batsman, who has a reputation for an aggressive on-field demeanor which has occasionally gone too far, said he was reacting to a “vile and disgusting” comment de Kock made about Warner’s wife.

“I cop it left, right and center, especially off the field from spectators and I’m used to that and it doesn’t bother me,” Warner said. “But in a proximity of my personal space and from behind me, a comment that was vile and disgusting about my wife, and in general about a lady, was quite poor I felt.

“My emotional response was just something that I don’t believe should have been said and I’ll always stick up for my family and in that case my teammates as well.”

South Africa’s and de Kock’s defense is that he was persistently abused by Warner and other Australian fielders while he was batting during the test in Durban, abuse which included comments of a “personal” nature against de Kock. De Kock eventually snapped.

“The point leading up to that was a lot of stuff said to Quinton, and a lot of personal stuff,” South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said. “Eventually he reached a point where he said enough is enough. Any guy in the world, depending on how far you push him, eventually he’s going to say something back. He said something back.”

So while Crowe is hoping the friendly city will work its charm, the hope may well be in vain.

“We’re men and we’re playing a competitive sport and at times emotions get the better of players,” Australia captain Steve Smith said after the Durban game. “That’s part of playing competitive sport and being in the grind.”

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Gerald Imray is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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