David Warner and Steve Smith return to South Africa for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal. File / Agence France-Presse
Australia opener David Warner is braced for a hostile reception but hopes fans will show “respect” as he and Steve Smith return to South Africa for the first time since the ‘Sandpapergate’ ball-tampering scandal that rocked world Cricket.
The last time the pair played in South Africa, almost two years ago, they were sent home in disgrace for attempting to alter the ball with sandpaper during a Cape Town Test. It cost them 12-month suspensions and for Warner, a lifetime leadership ban.
They have since resurrected their careers and are all but forgiven at home, with Warner this week winning a vote by players, officials and media to claim Australian Cricket’s highest honour, the Allan Border Medal -- with Smith placed second.
But both players were constantly booed and jeered during last year’s one-day World Cup and Ashes series in England, and they are expected to receive similar treatment in South Africa.
The batsmen are both in the Australian squad for three Twenty20s and three ODIs beginning Feb. 21. Their T20 on Feb. 26 will mark the tourists’ first match at Newlands since the 2018 scandal.
“For me personally, it won’t be hard at all,” Warner told Sydney radio station 2GB this week. “I just go there and I’ve got a job to do and that’s to score runs and win games for Australia and put us in a good position. But he added that “obviously, it’s going to be very hostile”.
“I copped it in England; I actually enjoyed that and played along with it. Hopefully, we’re showed some respect when we go over to Africa and the things that happen in the past stay there.”
Fast bowler Josh Hazlewood said he had no concerns about how Warner and Smith would handle their reception.
“Steve and Dave have ticked off pretty much every box since coming back,” the seamer told reporters.
“It’s just another one of those and I don’t think it’ll faze them one bit. They probably play better when it’s like this. It’s nothing we haven’t experienced before... we’ll be fine.”
Australia will be using the tour to fine-tune preparations for the T20 World Cup on home soil in October -- the only major cricketing trophy the men’s team has yet to win.
But they will be without explosive batting star Glenn Maxwell, who pulled out this week to have arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow.
Equally dangerous batsman and wrist-spinner D’Arcy Short has replaced him in both formats.
“If you look at our squad selections over the last couple of months, it’s all been pretty consistent,” said Finch.
“There hasn’t been a huge amount of risk-taking in our selections, so we’ve got confidence in the 14 guys in South Africa that potentially they can take us forward to the T20 World Cup.”
Meanwhile, South Africa has cited fatigue as the reason for not playing three Twenty20s in Pakistan next month.
“Managing player workload is a top priority for any Cricket board, and from that perspective, their decision is understandable,” Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Wasim Khan said in a statement on Friday.
The PCB had already proposed Rawalpindi as the venue for the series to the CSA and was also expecting a security official from South Africa to visit Pakistan during the PSL tournament, starting next week.
Khan said that the CSA has assured the PCB it would honor the commitment of sending their team to Pakistan as soon as it is reasonably possible.
“We are pleased that the CSA remains committed to rescheduling this short series ... both the boards are now exploring their Future Tour Programs to find gaps so that we can agree on the dates,” Khan said.
South Africa is presently hosting Twenty20s at home against England. Next week, South Africa will be touring Australia for three Twenty20s and as many one-day internationals and then they are scheduled to go to India for three ODIs, starting March 12.
Australia ODI squad:
Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, D’Arcy Short, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa.
Australia T20 squad:
Aaron Finch (capt), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Marsh, D’Arcy Short, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa