The Aussies weren’t just trying to entertain on the field against Pakistan.
So dismal were the crowds in Durban for the first Test, it’s surprising there’s still ambiguity over what was said between David Warner and Quinton de Kock.
Surely the few that bothered to turn up at Kingsmead heard everything.
Were there really critiques of wives and sisters? Ex-girlfriends? Pets? Fashion? Favourite bands? How lame did it get?
It was a real pity, because the cricket between the second-ranked South Africa and Australia, ranked one spot behind them, was top notch.
Just 3957 spectators filled the 25,000-capacity venue on Day 1, and although it was a working day, the crowds were still woeful over the weekend. It was embarrassing. The quality of the combatants involved deserved better – for their skills, certainly not their bickering.
Leading into the series, perhaps the more pressing issue was the potential ambivalence of the players and not the local fans.
Sandwiched between the cricketing world’s two biggest Twenty20 competitions – the BBL and IPL – there was a danger that a bit of air would be taken out of the contest. The rise of franchise cricket is one of the most prominent issues facing the international calendar and its appeal to fans.
Although the three formats have the potential to prove symbiotic, the concern for the ICC and some national associations is that T20s will erode the popularity of one-day cricket, and probably more significantly, Test cricket.
Eight players from the Test teams – Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada – will head off to India immediately after the fourth Test in Johannesburg.
Of course Australia and South Africa are two great rivals with a tradition of viciously fought Test battles, but the worry might be those that are IPL-bound may pull back on intensity and energy levels, preferring to coast towards their next big payday.
There was none of that at Kingsmead.
Apart from the Warner-de Kock stink, there was plenty of passion.
Starc was bowling thunderbolts. So was Rabada. Josh Hazlewood was nudging 145km/hr and Morne Morkel was slapping the gloves too.
There was bluster. Bravado. Nathan Lyon was chirping. Faf was up for the fight. Starc gave Theunis de Bruyn a big spray.
Warner and de Kock went too far.
Insults flying around the infield – such as those alleged between the two – are never pretty. The clear consensus is it shouldn’t have gone that far and it’s not the example the top players should be setting.
But no one wrapped a bat around someone else’s head. It was schoolyard trash talk that didn’t lead to anything physical. They should both have the maturity and resilience to move on.
At least we know there’s no IPL-motivated complacency in this series.
The second Test is going to be a cracker. Hopefully a spat like the one between Warner and de Kock isn’t the sensationalism we need for intrigue to spark and the crowds to flow through the turnstiles.
The players have proven the passion for big Test series is still there, and so it should be every time you play for your country. But for a number of sports that face the club versus country dilemma, often it’s the cashed-up clubs that flex their muscle and win over the international game.
Given the heavyweight showdown set to unfold over the next three matches, if the local fans don’t turn up in much better numbers than Durban, the future of Test cricket in South Africa appears gloomy.