South Africa promised not to wind up Australia over ball-tampering Sunday when they meet for the first time since this year’s ill-fated Test series, when a cheating scandal plunged Australian cricket into disgrace.
The three-game, one-day series is a chance for Australia to move on from a miserable eight months, which began with the tampering row and continued with some grim results on the road. Australia lost the Test series to South Africa and another against Pakistan, and crashed badly in a one-day series to England.
They returned home to a scathing independent review this week that slammed Cricket Australia for creating an “arrogant” and “controlling” atmosphere that fostered a win-at-all-costs attitude.
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who played in the ‘sandpaper-gate’ Test that culminated in lengthy bans for Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, insisted his team won’t dredge up the past.
“I don’t think us as a team would go there,” he told reporters. “It’s got nothing to do with the cricket — it’s in the past. For us, it’s business as usual.”
South African fans laid into the Australians during the Test series, holding up signs mocking the team. One young supporter reportedly tried to get bowler Nathan Lyon to autograph a piece of sandpaper.
When South Africa toured Australia in 2016, du Plessis was fined for ball-tampering after he sucked on a mint and then shined the ball. He disputed the finding. The Proteas have brought virtually their strongest team to Australia for the one-dayers in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart, and a single Twenty20 clash on the Gold Coast.
While missing Hashim Amla (finger) and JP Duminy (shoulder) for the tour, fast bowler Dale Steyn is back and joins Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir in a formidable attack.
All-rounder Chris Morris also returns after recovering from a lower back injury, although South Africa’s tour didn’t start well with a four-wicket loss to a young Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra on Wednesday.
After recent failures, Australia have dumped Tim Paine as one-day captain, with explosive batsman Aaron Finch assuming the role. Spin veteran Lyon has also been axed, along with all-rounder Mitch Marsh.
But fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins return from injury to spearhead the attack alongside Josh Hazlewood. Finch said batsmen staying at the crease was a key focus leading into the series after recent capitulations.
“We’ve struggled with the bat for quite a while now and it’s up to us guys who get first go of it in Perth next Sunday against South Africa to start rewriting that last probably 18 months,” he said.
“I think that when you have a bit of change in the side, it’s about starting to build a really good dynamic and a really good chemistry within that side. “We’ve been trying new things, we’ve been out in the nets for hours. You can’t question it from that point of view. It’s just about making sure that we start to build partnerships again.”
Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Josh Hazlewood, Alex Carey, Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Heinrich Klaasen, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn.
© Agence France-Presse