Tour review

South Africa vs Australia in 2019-20

Neil Manthorp

Twenty20 internationals (3): South Africa 1, Australia 2
One-day internationals (3): South Africa 3, Australia 0

All the talk was of the reception the Australians would receive on their return to South Africa, two years after the sandpaper imbroglio. Just how hostile would the crowds be at the notoriously partisan Wanderers - or at Newlands, where Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft had conspired to change the state of the ball? Extra security was employed for the opening game, in Johannesburg, where the raucous Eastern Terrace was unexpectedly closed over safety concerns following torrential rain, less than 24 hours before the start. It meant Warner's second-ball dismissal was not greeted with uproar.

Nor was there much reaction in Cape Town. The fact that South Africa were hammered in both games helped silence the criticism. But, just in case, Australian coach Justin Langer and his players spent much of the tour saying how welcoming the people of South Africa had been. And so, to a mix of surprise and relief, the fans' behaviour proved nothing to write home about. Almost everybody, it seemed, had moved on, even if a few wags wrote supposedly humorous messages on sheets of sandpaper, or booed Smith and Warner (Bancroft was not selected).

The tourists, though, stuck to their roles in a well-choreographed charm offensive and, very soon, the talk was about cricket, and not much else. In both series, there was an almost exhibition-match atmosphere. The 20-over games, at the start of the tour, were treated more seriously, since there was the focus of the Twenty20 World Cup, scheduled to start in October. They did not foster optimism for South Africa, whose scrambled win at Port Elizabeth was sandwiched by their two heaviest T20 thrashings.

There was little riding on the ODIs so early in the four-year World Cup cycle. The Australians rarely seemed to apply themselves, and South Africa seized the opportunity to placate disillusioned supporters with a rousing clean sweep that took their record against them to 11 wins in their last 12 meetings.

Mitchell Starc was hostility incarnate at the start of the innings - only once in five games did he fail to take a wicket in the opening over - but could not sustain his aggression. He was allowed to miss the last ODI to watch his wife, Alyssa Healy, in the final of the women's T20 World Cup at the MCG; the move received more positive media feedback than anything the Australians achieved on the field.

South Africa could look with satisfaction on the performance of several debutants. Opening batsman Janneman Malan - whose brother, Pieter, had recently made his Test debut, against England - followed a first-ball duck with a match-winning century at Bloemfontein. And the series award went to Heinrich Klaasen, whose 242 runs, at better than one a ball, were 90 more than anyone else. After three stop-start years marred by injury and episodes of wretched form, he made an emphatic statement for the future.

For South Africa's new white-ball captain, Quinton de Kock, it proved a challenging few weeks. He made a brisk 70 in the Port Elizabeth T20, but on three occasions across the two series was bowled by Starc in the first over. Yet his side came out comfortably on top in the ODIs, and headed to India with a spring in their step. In the wings, though, lay an unseen enemy that would stop them, and the world, in their tracks.

© John Wisden & Co