Australia's wicketkeeper Tim Paine has vehemently rebutted South African claims that the tourists instigated the personal sledging that led to the confrontation in the stairwell in Durban, declaring it was "blatantly untrue" that Quinton de Kock's family was mentioned in verbal exchanges and confirming that he heard David Warner's wife Candice being targeted.
Alongside Usman Khawaja and the captain Steven Smith, Paine was one of three Australian players who restrained Warner in the stairwell, and said he had heard the remark from de Kock that set the vice-captain off. Paine conceded the Australians had been trying to make de Kock "uncomfortable" in the lead-up to tea, but stated that verbals had only pertained to "cricket stuff and a few little things about his fitness". A tweet linking to the CCTV footage of the exchange, meanwhile, led de Kock's sister to tweet: "Wtf! I will hurt you @davidwarner31".
Paine also rejected the South African contention that Warner had indulged in a lengthy tirade of personal attacks on de Kock, noting that at no stage did the on-field umpires Kumar Dharmasena and S Ravi offer so much as a single word of warning to the Australians that their comments were skating close to the edge of what was appropriate. The rebuttals have further underlined the distance between the two teams over events at Kingsmead, for which the ICC has charged both Warner and de Kock with "conduct bringing the game into disrepute".
"That's completely false. At no stage was Quinton's family mentioned, that's 100% false," Paine said in Port Elizabeth. "I don't know how their team manager [Mohammed Moosajee] can hear from where he's sitting, but from where I was, which was right nearby the whole time, there was nothing we said that was inappropriate. We were trying to make it an uncomfortable place for Quinton to bat, no doubt, but we didn't cross the line. We spoke about cricket stuff and a few little things with his fitness.
"Our stuff is the way we've always played our cricket. Certainly it's hard, and we like to make them feel uncomfortable out there. But we don't cross the line and bring people's wives and family into the cricket game. And we'll continue to do that for as long as we play. Obviously the situation wasn't ideal for both sides and it was regrettable what happened up the stairs, but it's disappointing that they've come out now and said a few things that are just blatantly untrue."
In the moment he came face to face with a raging Warner, Pained admitted he did not know what the opening batsman might have done if he had been allowed to get any closer to de Kock than shouting distance. "I don't know what would have happened to be honest, but he was certainly extremely fired up and he had every right to be," Paine said. "I think at the time when it was actually said, I think I was probably the only person that heard it.
"Usman had gone a bit further ahead and I was about to walk around them both, I just thought they were still going on just from the general chatter that was on the ground. As I went past de Kock he said what he said, and luckily I suppose I was there in between.
"Once he [Warner] got off his chest what he wanted to say, once he sat down, there was no issue. He is not the sort of bloke who will whinge about being sledged, I've hear blokes say a lot of things on the cricket field that don't bother him, I have never seen him react like he reacted when we were coming off the field. People have said if he gives it he is going to have to take it, all that sort of rubbish, which is fine on the field, but when you are bringing people's families or wives into it it's unacceptable."
As for whether the episode would change the way the Australians conducted themselves on the field, Paine reckoned that it was most likely to have the opposite effect, while also making it clear that Warner knew the risks of "blowback" he took by going after members of the opposition.
"He understands that is unfortunately how it is at times, a character like Dave who likes to get under the skin of opposition players will get a bit of blowback at times," Paine said. "Our team is certainly behind him, we know as a group what we said on the field and what we didn't say on the field, everyone is totally comfortable with that and we also know what was said by the opposition.
"I don't think it will change [us] a lot, a lot of people like to pretend that they like being in the fight and having verbal stoushes on the cricket field but Davey is genuinely someone who loves that and thrives on it. I can't wait to see him prepare for this game, when he gets the bit between the teeth he is one of the best cricketers in the world.
"There's a line that we don't cross and at times we probably went pretty close to it in this Test with some wicket celebrations and what happened with Nathan [Lyon], but Dave is at his best as a cricketer when he is in the face of oppositions. He is very good at getting under their skin and its been clear in the first Test that he has been able to do that."
Asked whether the issues with the way the Australians used verbal tactics to unsettle opponents were based on cultural disconnects between countries, Paine pointed out that South Africa's style had long been considered the most similar to his own side's. "They've stated as well that we play a pretty similar style of cricket," he said. "I've only ever heard one thing that has ever crossed the line and that was when we were coming up that stairwell.
"On the field they have been niggling away at us and we have been niggling away at them and that is where it is going to stay. The umpires didn't object to anything that was said. We didn't have any of our players mention anyone's family members or wives. Even on the ground. I've heard some comments from their team manager or former captain [Graeme Smith] in commentary that we were crossing the line. If you're crossing the line, the umpires will intervene, and they didn't."