Still reeling from 'Sandpaper gate', Australia on charm offensive

Friday's T20I will be Australia’s first match in South Africa since the controversial tour of 2018. It will mark the return of Steve Smith and David Warner.

Distraught Australian cricketer Steve Smith, on March 29, 2018, accepted full responsibility for a ball-tampering scandal.

Distraught Australian cricketer Steve Smith, on March 29, 2018, accepted full responsibility for a ball-tampering scandal.   -  Getty Images

Australia has been on a charm offensive ahead of Friday’s first Twenty20 international against South Africa at the Wanderers Stadium, a ground renowned for being among the most intimidating in the world.

The match will be Australia’s first in South Africa since the infamous “Sandpaper-gate” tour of 2018, and will mark the return in front of South African crowds of former captain Steve Smith and opening batsman David Warner, both banned for a year for their role in the scandal.

The Wanderers ‘bullring’ is likely to be packed to its capacity of just under 30,000. It is a noisy venue and especially so when Australia is the opposition. But all opposition teams are regarded as fair game.

As recently as last month, England’s Ben Stokes was provoked into swearing at a rowdy spectator after he was dismissed during the fourth Test against South Africa.

In the lead up to the match, the Australians have been at pains to say how much they enjoy playing in South Africa, while Smith tweeted that a visit to a Soweto school for children with special needs was a “humbling experience”.

Smith told journalists that he expected to be targeted by the crowd.

READ | Bond lauds Taylor ahead of 100th Test, backs Black Caps to beat India

“They are hostile at the best of times here,” he said.

Noisy spectators didn’t bother him when he was batting and he said he was looking forward to hearing the crowd when he was fielding.

“Then again it’s just words, it doesn’t affect me,” he said.

“I think I will be doing some outfielding so I’m looking forward to it. I will smile and laugh and play along and have fun.”

Coach Justin Langer said on arrival that touring England last year was a “great dress rehearsal” for Smith and Warner, saying the pair had let their bats do the talking in response to hostile crowds.

“Hopefully they’ll be looking forward to getting back into it and playing good cricket here,” he said.

Captain Aaron Finch said Australia would “play cricket with a smile on our face” and that Warner enjoyed “banter” coming from the crowd. “It gets him into the game,” he said.

Jacques Faul, acting chief executive of Cricket South Africa, has asked fans to “respect” the Australians and warned that unruly spectators could be ejected from the ground.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :