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August 26, 2014
Australia 'nudge the line a fair bit' - Warner
Fierce rivalry takes on a more literal meaning when it is between South Africa and Australia. Whether it is the actual blood on the floor from Mitchell Johnson breaking bones or the figurative kind - the howling of Faf du Plessis off the field as punishment for likening the Australia to a "pack of dogs," in March - there's something feral, almost brutal, about the competition between them.
Five months ago, the rawness of their relationship was exposed not just in the du Plessis incident but by interaction between two of their best players. Michael Clarke and Dale Steyn were nose to nose after a decision did not go Australia's way and the tension was more than any that had been seen between the two teams in a long time.
That was the last time the duo duelled, Clarke has subsequently apologised for being "out of line," and South Africa have in the words of ODI captain AB de Villiers "moved on," without forgetting. "I didn't know about that but apology accepted. It was a hard-fought series in SA, but there are definitely no hard feelings. We didn't expect anything less," de Villiers said ahead of their first meeting in the triangular series in Harare.
He went one step further by inviting Australia to pick up where they left off because South Africa are ready to brush them off in every sense. "When I get sledged at the wicket, I don't mind it at all. I really enjoy the challenge. I'm expecting to see more of that in this series," de Villiers said. "There was lots of personal stuff. Certain guys take it in a different way. I laughed at a couple of chirps I heard. It's part of the game and I see it in that way. But they can't expect us to be mates with them off the field if they get very personal."
If anything, dangling the threat of a withdrawal of goodwill is certain to pique Australia's interest but de Villiers has insisted South Africa are prepared. "In the same breath, we are also here to win this series so... whatever it takes," he said.
His men have geared themselves up not with extra net sessions or hours of video analysis but with a boot camp in beastliness. In their three days off, most of South Africa's squad headed to the Victoria Falls River Lodge - a luxury tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River - where they were surrounded by "hippos and crocodiles" and channelled their inner Dale Steyn.
The leader of the pack had been in the bush for longer because he was rested for the three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe and used the time to be daring. While fishing, he ended up hooking himself and if that wasn't enough, he also jumped off the Zambezi River Bridge. Far from being concerned that he could render himself unavailable for the triangular, South Africa's management encouraged him to get his adrenaline fix because they believe that is what he and the rest of the squad needs.
"That is probably the reason he has been the No.1 bowler in the world for so long," de Villiers said. "He has got that adventurous streak about him and he loves challenges. His kind of challenge is jumping of a bridge. That's what he does at home in Cape Town too. He runs in the mountains there and there is always some sort of danger. And also some of the other guys, we also like adventure. We had hippos and crocodiles around us. It's part of going to a game lodge and part of switching the mind off. We are all here very fresh."
Inevitably, there was also some focus on cricket and the elephant in the room walked in too, although not literally. "I don't want any cricket conversation on those trips but it comes up all the time. The guys love the game and they love to talk about the game. Around the camp fire it came up a few times - how we are going to try and win this series," de Villiers. "The lodge owner wanted to know a few things about why we haven't won a World Cup."
If South Africa have an answer to that question, they are not saying what it is, except that they hope this time will be different. Meticulous planning sprinkled with some escapism is the recipe they are using this time and doubtless beating is Australia is part of what they see as being on the right road to success.
But if the sense of bravado is not enough to let Australia know South Africa mean business, de Villiers, who has only scored 29 runs in three innings on this tour, had a personal warning for them too. "I am hitting the ball better than ever so I expect myself to make an impact in this series," he said. "If I don't I will be very disappointed."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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