South Africa captain Faf du Plessis believes Steve Smith and David Warner will be remembered for their cricket achievements rather than a ball-tampering scandal as they prepare to face the Proteas for the first time since last year’s controversial Test in Cape Town.
Then Australia captain Smith and Warner, his deputy, were both given 12-month bans for their roles in the build-up to an extraordinary incident that saw Cameron Bancroft apply sandpaper to the ball while fielding at Newlands in a breach of the rules.
The fall-out was dramatic, with Smith and Warner banned and sent home from the tour by Cricket Australia, who then engaged in a root and branch review of team ethics.
But fast forward to the ongoing World Cup and an Australia side featuring Smith and Warner following the conclusion of their bans are in the semi-finals even before they face the Proteas in Saturday’s concluding group match at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile du Plessis, the home captain in Cape Town, is leading a South Africa side whose own hopes of a last four place disappeared long ago in the 10-team tournament.
Warner has scored more than 500 runs at this World Cup and Smith has looked in good touch as well, with du Plessis telling reporters at Old Trafford on Friday: “Certainly, they are extremely hungry to perform at international cricket again.
“I think any player that is as good as the two of them that will get taken away from playing at the highest stage will come back extremely motivated. And I think you can see that the two of them are and they are doing well and scoring runs.”
As for whether their careers would be known for ball-tampering above all else, du Plessis said: “Whether the game will remember them for that, I don’t think so.
“I think their records and their performances will speak much louder than one incident as a one-off.
“I think they are probably better, not -- I won’t say people -- but if you can look at them now you can see as a team, obviously, the Australian culture looks like it’s really good, so they have learnt from that and they have made themselves stronger for it.
“I think that’s a good sign for anyone. All of us make mistakes. It is about how you learn and how you move forward.”
A bitter series also saw du Plessis leave the changing room at Durban’s Kingsmead to witness a stairwell row between Warner and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock.
Du Plessis, who just had a towel around him at the time, insisted there had been no talk among the Proteas’ World Cup squad about the incidents in Durban and Cape Town.
“Not really, apart from me putting a shirt on next time,” he said with a smile.
“No chat. It was serious but it was funny watching that video (there was CCTV footage), so that’s probably something we will be remembered for, the stairwell.”
Won’t rush his future
Faf du Plessis said he plans to consider his South Africa future once the dust of a disappointing World Cup campaign has settled.
The Proteas arrived in England with high hopes but have long been out of the race for semi-final qualification, having won just two out of eight matches heading into Saturday’s group-stage finale against Australia.
The 34-year-old batsman, South Africa’s captain in all formats since September 2017, admitted Friday he was approaching a key moment in his career.
“My plan for myself was to commit fully to the World Cup and not even think of anything else,” du Plessis said.
“I didn’t want my mind to start drifting into the future. I wanted to be completely present.
“Right now is possibly not the best time to be making decisions because you are disappointed. You don’t want to be in this mode when you’re making career decisions.
“It’s a case of taking some time off and reflecting on what the future is like for me and what my purpose is going forward.”
South Africa’s next major assignment is a tour of India and du Plessis said: “I feel in terms of my own game, the last year is certainly the best I have ever played. There are no question marks there.”
The weakness of the Rand to other currencies has seen several players cut short their South Africa careers to play cricket on better financial terms elsewhere.
Some, such as Hampshire fast bowler Kyle Abbott have opted to play English county cricket under the ‘Kolpak’ ruling, which applies to countries such as South Africa that have trade agreements with the European Union.
Meanwhile outstanding batsman AB de Villiers has become a ‘gun for hire’ in the world’s lucrative Twenty20 franchise leagues.
Asked if there was anything the International Cricket Council could do to stop the exodus, du Plessis replied: “The ICC certainly not. Cricket South Africa, I know they have been trying to put things into place.
“That will become the biggest issue for us to try and stay away from for all players and that’s, you know, including myself.”
Saturday’s match comes 20 years after Australia and South Africa’s stunning tied World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston that got down to the last over with the Proteas needing one to win and one wicket standing.
But a mix-up between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald saw the latter run out.
“You think Lance, who was seeing the ball big, could take down a boundary at any stage of that over,” recalled du Plessis.
“But then you put yourself in that situation, it’s not always as easy as it looks.