Verbal battle set to resume in Adelaide
Almost as inevitable as the sight of Michael Clarke and Graeme Smith walking out for the toss at Adelaide Oval on Thursday will be the sound of their two sides resuming a noisy and pungent on-field dialogue from the moment the first ball is bowled.
Both camps expect the verbal battle to return in the second Test, particularly after a lively and even ill-tempered final afternoon in Brisbane passed without either the umpires Billy Bowden and Asad Rauf or the match referee Ranjan Madugalle raising a formal charge against either side. The umpires did, though, have a cautionary word to the bowlers at various points of the five days. This has effectively defined a generous line for the players' on-field aggression, leaving Adelaide to witness more jousting from Thursday.
"It's part of the game, once you get out in the middle and emotions start to rise, it's good for the game to see a bit of competitive spirit out there between the two teams," Michael Hussey said. "A lot of the players in the past have used it as a mental battle against batsmen and it's probably worked in the past as well.
"Whether it works on these South African batsmen I don't know. They've shown they've been a great team for a period of time now, they don't get to No. 1 in the world without enduring these sorts of things before. But once you get over that white line, competitive spirit between bat and ball starts, and there's always going to be things that are said, but as long as it doesn't go too far and players [don't] cross the line I think it's fine."
Clarke spoke before the series about "pushing the line" of legal aggression in this series, whether it was in terms of short-pitched bowling or a pointed choice of words. Australia's players make no secret of their use of verbal aggression towards the opposition as a way of firing themselves up, something witnessed quite pointedly earlier this year during the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka when the ears of the Irish among others were left ringing by fighting words from the mouths of Shane Watson and David Warner in particular.
In Brisbane it was James Pattinson who vented his distaste for batsmen most freely, with Smith copping plenty on the final afternoon after he pulled away from one delivery as the bowler entered his delivery stride. Ultimately Pattinson, who won the duel, delivered a send-off to South Africa's captain that might have forced Madugalle to act had it been even a fraction more prolonged.
Smith had played the role of instigator earlier in the match, confronting Ed Cowan with an attempt to disturb the opener's concentration as he prepared to face up to the first over of the fourth day's play. Smith's words were brushed aside by Cowan, but provided further proof that Australia and South Africa are most comfortable when flinging a little mud each other's way in pursuit of victory.
Nevertheless, AB de Villiers noted that Australia's bluster proved unsuccessful in the 2008-09 series in Australia, a useful reminder of the fact that sharp words can quickly appear hollow if not backed up by sharper deeds.
"They thought so in 2008 as well and it didn't really happen that way, so hopefully we can prove them wrong again," de Villiers said of the contention that Australia considered sledging to be a way to get into South African heads.
"There's always a bit of chat around. We're talking about two very good teams who want to win the game. You do whatever you can to get a few wickets when the pressure is on. Whatever you can do to get an edge over the opposition, you will do it."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here