How the Proteas won a dirty war against the Aussies

We can't deny it, much of the Proteas' success in winning the psychological warfare was down the fans. (Photo by EJ Langer/Gallo Images)

Forget that they’ve played some excellent cricket. South Africa’s powerful position in the Test series is down to far more obscure tactics.

As much as the Australians self-destructed on their tour of South Africa, it’s undeniable that the Proteas played a substantial part in winning the on-field battle as well as the “war of the sideshows”.

Despite Faf du Plessis – rightly – stating after the momentous win at Newlands that the hosts’ play “took all of the glory”, it doesn’t mean that the Proteas’ hands are squeeky clean.

In fact, South Africa can’t claim to have been the gentlemen in this whole saga.

All they actually did was be shrewder of the two teams, unrelenting in not taking a step back to the Australians.

In a nutshell, they threw everything that came their way back at Steve Smith and co.

It’s hardly noble but it’s mightily effective.

Here’s how they did it.

Kagiso Rabada’s successful appeal

South African sport isn’t known for being savvy when it comes to disciplinary matters – partly because it overplays the victim card and also because its players are invariably guilty.

But when Rabada managed to overturn his appeal, you could hear the punch being thrown into the Aussies’ gut.

The visitors (and much of South Africa to be honest) were stumped.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) played the whole incident to perfection.

They timed the appeal to perfection, placing pressure on the International Cricket Council (ICC) to sort out the judicial process.

There were 10 days between second and third Test, an ideal time-frame – the ICC was required to complete the hearing process within a week – to force an outcome.

CSA acquired a legal heavyweight in Dali Mpofu to spearhead what was undoubtedly a huge collective effort and the rest was history.

It certainly helped that Rabada had taken 11 wickets in PE, adding subtle pressure in terms of context: “What will this series be without KG?”

Letting the crowds be

From the outset, let it be stated that Australia were highly hypocritical to complain about the hostile crowds they encountered, especially after David Warner’s stairwell incident with Quinton de Kock.

It’s hardly a picnic playing Down Under, where players have been handed disposable beer cups with urine or been hit with pieces of roast chicken.

Now, the morality of reminding Warner at every turn about his wife Candice’s past is questionable.

Yet in psychological warfare such as this, ethics tends to be pushed on the back-burner.

CSA handled this issue smartly too.

They made the right noises at the right time and took action against two employees who posed with PE’s Sonny Bill impersonators.

Never though did they send out messages of a draconian clampdown on the fan’s experience.

The Proteas didn’t wade much into that territory either, which was pretty smart because in the average fan’s psyche, the moral authority of your sporting heroes rank higher than “faceless suits”.

As a result, the Aussies continued to be put under pressure.

The ball-tampering footage

In various other instances, the cozy relationship between a national team and the television channel who own the broadcasting rights is, at times, unbearable.

It’s no different with CSA and SuperSport.

There are many “explanations” for SuperSport’s obvious focus on the Aussie players’ off-the-ball actions.

According to Netwerk24, the broadcaster itself  insists the footage of Cameron Bancroft was coincidental because a crew of 30 cameras follow the cycle of a bowler sending down a delivery, the wicketkeeper throwing the ball back to a fielder and that fielder giving the ball back to the bowler.

Bancroft, as the designated “shiner” of the ball, was an “obvious” target given his responsibility.

Once that image was caught, the producers immediately cut to Lehmann, who was on walkie talkie in an attempt to communicate with Bancroft via 12th man Peter Handscomb.

Sensing Bancroft’s discomfort, SuperSport kept the cameras focused on him.

Former Proteas seamer and commentator Fanie de Villiers told an Australian station it was him that tipped off the producers but this has been denied.

Either way, it does still seem unlikely that SuperSport didn’t receive some sort of tip-off from the Proteas camp on what to look out for…


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