AUSTRALIA’S cricketers insist they would never “cross the line”.
But David Warner did, literally, before the disgraceful incident involving South Africa’s Quinton de Kock in the first Test at Durban last weekend.
The boundary line, that is.
While the confrontation between the pair outside the change rooms has dominated media attention this week, perhaps the most illuminating footage was produced just as the players left the field at tea on day four.
As de Kock paused at the boundary to remove his batting gloves and helmet, Warner walked past and declared, with venom: “You f---ing sook. Have a look at you, ya sook.”
Soon after this, after the players had headed up the tunnel to their inner sanctum, De Kock allegedly responded with a remark about Warner’s wife Candice that the Australian vice-captain described as “vile and disgusting”.
Within seconds, Warner was struggling to get his hands on De Kock, as teammates restrained him before an ugly situation deteriorated even further.
All of which was conveniently captured on CCTV and leaked to the media.
Both players have since been fined – Warner 75 per cent of his match fee and de Kock 25 per cent – and the Australian opener has incurred a points penalty that means he will be suspended if he again brings the game into disrepute in the next two years.
That Warner has since tried to claim the high moral ground by portraying himself as the victim strikes me as slightly laughable.
Whatever de Kock said – which presumably may have included a reference to Sonny-Bill Williams – was apparently in poor taste.
But let’s just consider the circumstances, and who was the instigator.
Warner makes no secret of the fact that he tries to get under the skin of his opponents on the field. He backs himself to handle whatever retribution comes his way in return.
In this particular instance, the Aussies were obviously fired up as they closed in on a Test victory. That was best illustrated by the run out of a diving AB de Villiers, after which spinner Nathan Lyon dropped the ball on the South African run machine, and Warner unleashed a torrent of abuse at rookie opener Aiden Markram.
Then de Kock arrived at the crease and proceeded to dig in. By tea he was 21 not out, having survived the best, or worst, Australia could throw at him, and South Africa were 5-167, still trailing by 249 runs.
Once umpires removed the bails to signal the end of that session, de Kock was entitled to believe he had earned some respite.
Sledging from the fieldsmen or bowlers directed at a batsman during his innings has long been considered part of what was once described as “a gentleman’s game”.
But continuing to target a bloke once he had effectively clocked off is surely below the belt. What does it achieve?
Watch the video. As Warner crosses the boundary rope, and proceeds to head up the players’ tunnel, he is still mouthing off. Who knows what else he said before de Kock finally bit back?
As South African skipper Faf du Plessis said in the aftermath: “If you know Quinton's character, you know that he is a very quiet guy.
“He doesn't say a word. I struggle to get a word out of him on the field, so I know he is a very relaxed, laidback guy. The point leading up to that was a lot of stuff said to Quinton, and a lot of personal stuff … eventually he reached a point where he said enough is enough.
“Any guy in the world, depending on how far you pushed him, eventually he's going to say something back.”
For Warner and the Australians to paint de Kock as the bad guy in all this is ludicrous. Their argument is based on a flimsy premise – they play the game hard but never get personal, and certainly would never disparage a player’s wife.
By that logic, presumably De Kock had no right to take offence at Warner’s comments, even though they were delivered during the tea break, off the field.
Yet as South Africa coach Ottis Gibson asked: “They are saying they didn't cross the line, but where is the line, who sets the line, where did the line come from ... whose line is it?"
It’s hard not to reach the conclusion Warner’s aggression towards de Kock – as was the case when he punched Joe Root in a Birmingham watering hole – was because he believed his rival was a soft touch.
Would he have been so hostile if the offending opponent was England all-rounder Ben Stokes?
Would he be brave enough to insult towering West Indians Chris Gayle or Kieron Pollard? I doubt it.
Even more disappointing than Warner’s conduct has been the deafening silence (at the time of publication) from Cricket Australia officials.
Wearing the Baggy Green cap should be the greatest privilege in Australian sport, and this is not the first time Warner – a hero to millions of impressionable Aussie kids – has caused embarrassment. At the very least, he should have been stood down for the second Test in the series.
In this case, the Aussies can’t even hide behind the time-honoured adage “what happens on the field, stays on the field”.
What happens off the field, across the boundary line, is another matter altogether.