Durban -When all eyes should have been on Mitchell Starc pursuing a first Test hat-trick after dismembering the lower order late on day four on Sunday, the unsavoury verbal fracas between David Warner and Quinton de Kock overshadowed Australia’s 118-run victory in the first Test.
Light may have denied Australia the opportunity of wrapping up the game late on the fourth evening but 22 balls sufficed to administer the last rites on Monday morning. Josh Hazlewood was the grim reaper and denied Starc a well-earned 10-wicket haul.
Starc was the deserved man-of-the-match, but the day four tea interval incident in which Australia’s opener engaged in a verbal missive contest with SA’s wicket-keeper marred the Test.
Decorum, it seemed, was flushed down the toilet as tempers on a hot Sunday afternoon bubbled over and captain Steven Smith and Usman Khawaja had to restrain Warner.
The unseemly incident took the gloss of routinely excellent Australian performance on South African shores when it comes to first Tests.
Australia have only lost two out of eight opening Tests in SA since readmission.
However, all statistics were dwarfed by the Warner-De Kock verbal altercation.
The incident is now with match referee Jeff Crowe, who has until 3pm on Tuesday to make a ruling.
In the event of his not making a ruling, the International Cricket Council (ICC) can take further steps through CEO David Richardson.
At the end of the day, Australia’s first innings 351 was more than SA could manage when they responded with 162. The 189-run lead allowed Australia to bat with cautious aggression to set SA 417 to win.
A tilt at the second-highest successful chase in Test history was always going to be beyond SA’s ability, especially when Starc (5/34 and 4/74), Hazlewood (3/62 and 1/31) and Pat Cummins (1/47 and 1/47) reduced the hosts to 49/4 in the second innings.
There also was the AB de Villiers runout and the subsequent Nathan Lyon celebration. Lyon has been fined 15% of his match fee by the ICC and had a demerit point added to his disciplinary record. Four points would result in him missing a Test.
Smith was firmly in Warner’s corner and said De Kock was responsible for the staircase altercation. "I think what was said and done during the interval was regrettable on both sides. Obviously Quinton got quite personal and provoked an emotional response from David and I think those things are not on from both sides.
"Getting personal on the field is not on and it’s crossing the line in my opinion," Smith said.
"You can’t be getting into someone’s personal life like that. That’s not on and that’s crossing the line. Right now that’s in the hands of the match officials and right now we want to see the game being played in a good, hard way and in the spirit of the game. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it was personal, but Faf can say what he likes."
SA were distinctly second best and captain Faf du Plessis admitted as much.
He tried to be diplomatic about the incident but also was in his man’s corner.
"I wasn’t personally involved but it is what it is. I wasn’t out there in the middle but I’m told there was a lot of personal stuff being said on the field. Who started it? I don’t know.
"If it was happening on the field, it should have been nipped in the bud on the field.
"The fact it spilled over off the field, that shouldn’t happen," Du Plessis said.
"If I play against Australia and don’t hear the aggression, I get disappointed. For me, that’s part of the game."
SA had highlights in Aiden Markram (143), De Kock (83) and Keshav Maharaj (5/123 and 4/102) but they were dwarfed by Australia’s all-round might.
There is a lot that needs to be done ahead of Friday’s second Test at St George’s Park.