Personal abuse directed by Newlands spectators at the Australian side during the third Test has been labelled "disgraceful" by the coach Darren Lehmann, as Cricket South Africa responded to a written complaint from Cricket Australia following taunts about the partners and families of Steven Smith's team.
David Warner's post-dismissal exchange with a spectator on day two was the visible tip of an iceberg's worth of abuse over the first two days of the match, with nine spectators ejected on day two, after three had been blocked from entry on day one for wearing offensive t-shirts on the opening day. None of the ejected spectators have been banned from returning later in the match.
Lehmann said the abuse, typically directed at the nearest Australian fielder to the boundary when the South African side was batting on days one and two, was the worst his team had witnessed anywhere in the world. "We accept it all around the world, but as soon as they cross the line and they talk about players' families the whole time and getting abused like that, it's just not on," Lehmann said. "There's been various incidents throughout the Test series but this one has taken the cake.
"I think it's been disgraceful. You're talking about abuse of various players and their families and personal abuse, it's not on at a cricket ground anywhere around the world, not just here, it shouldn't happen. You can have the banter, that's fine, banter is good-natured, fun by crowds but they've gone too far here. We've written to Cricket South Africa, Cricket Australia have done that, we'll see their response, but it's been poor. We'll see what happens, hopefully something."
In response, South Africa's acting chief executive, Thabang Moroe, said fans on both sides needed to behave. "Cricket South Africa and the players appreciate the fans' passionate support displayed at all our games," he said. "However the events that transpired today were not tolerable and something that we don't want to see at any of our Test matches.
"We have since taken it upon ourselves to beef up our security personnel to ensure that players from both sides don't have to endure such unfortunate behavior. Both CSA and the players encourage supporters to continue rooting for their teams and also to behave in a decorous manner that will allow this Test series to be played in true spirit of the game."
Australian touring teams have long acknowledged that they receive some of their harshest treatment from spectators in South Africa, although up to this point Warner's tour had involved more exchanges with opponents than fans. In Durban he was captured on CCTV cameras exchanging words with Quinton de Kock, then responding angrily to the response from the South African wicketkeeper and needing to be physically restrained by team-mates as he climbed the stairwell at Kingsmead.
That incident saw Warner fined and handed three demerit points under the ICC code of conduct, meaning he is one further disciplinary infraction away from a ban. De Kock was also fined over the episode, albeit on a lesser charge. Warner had alleged that his aggression was sparked by de Kock making personal remarks about his wife Candice.
Between Test matches, offensive masks were distributed by fans in reference to her brief bathroom encounter with the rugby league player Sonny Bill Williams years before she and Warner became a couple. Two Cricket South Africa officials, Clive Eksteen and Altaaf Kazi, were suspended by the home board after allowing fans wearing the masks to be admitted to St George's Park in Port Elizabeth and then posing with them for a photograph. In Cape Town, the t-shirt fans were barred from wearing into the ground stated "Warner where's your wife? She's just gone to the toilet for a minute", while abuse of other players and their partners ramped up.
"Yep it was personal and it was poor and he wasn't the only one," Lehmann said of the taunts at Warner. "There's always going to be banter, as long as it doesn't get personal, but it has gone too far with the crowd here and they've got to be better than that when they're coming to international arenas to watch a game of two quality sides playing against each other. They go hard on the ground, there's no doubt about that, but off the ground you don't expect that when you're leaving the ground or you're having a go at someone's family. It's just disgraceful."
Morne Morkel, who took his 300th Test wicket on day two, stopped short of criticising the Newlands crowd, and stated he had been on the receiving end of abuse from crowds in Australia.
"We can't control that. Unfortunately, there is a bit of alcohol and there's hot sun and we expect that," Morkel said. "When we play in Australia, I have played in Melbourne, I have copped the same sort of abuse. It's part of the game but there is a line and its important not to cross that.
"The crowd here is always amazing. They come out and support us all the time. Tomorrow is going to be even louder being a Saturday. It's always special playing here at Newlands. It's the marquee event and the way they get behind the boys and lift us up when we are out in the field is special."
South African teams playing in Australia have a history of facing verbal abuse or worse, dating back to the spin bowler Pat Symcox having a cooked chicken thrown at him on the SCG outfield during a limited-overs match in 1997. On more recent tours, other members of the South African side, including Hashim Amla, have been subjected to racial taunts. In 2005-06, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Ashwell Prince, Garnett Kruger and Shaun Pollock were among players racially abused.
"None of the team minds any form of abuse because it happens in any country, the home side really gets behind it," South Africa's then coach Mickey Arthur said at the time. "But we feel once it becomes a racist taunt then the boundaries are being overstepped and the South African team categorically deplores that type of behaviour. I don't think we can do too much more other than just make our point that we categorically deplore it and we do feel that boundaries are being crossed when that sort of thing transpires out there."
The events of that summer brought a fiercer focus from CA on crowd behaviour at grounds, including a "zero tolerance" policy for racial abuse, which could attract a life ban from venues. Advertising campaigns were also devised to educate spectators as to what was appropriate and what was not.
Asked about crowd behaviour in Australia, Lehmann said improvement was needed across the board. "That's not good enough from an Australian crowd point of view either," he said. "We've just got to get better at watching the game of cricket, actually supporting both teams generally, and that's something that both boards have got to get around."