It's bare knuckle time
You don't have to have been particularly vigilant in the build-up to the one-day series to have noticed that the gloves used during the test series have been quietly slipped off. Tension has been simmering between the teams virtually since England arrived but they stuck by the rules, by and large.
Now I predict the lid is about to blow off the boiling cauldron of
animosity. Ironically, the man who will be responsible for maintaining
discipline on the field for the next seven games - match referee Clive
Lloyd - has played a significant role in creating the foul moods currently
presiding in both camps.
The former West Indian captain's decision to fine Michael Vaughan his
entire match fee for a mildly critical request for the umpires to show
consistency rightly infuriated the England camp - but not nearly as much as
his feeble acquiesence in the face of Andre Nel's histrionic abuse of just
about every England batsman he bowled to.
The first public sign that relations were deteriorating between the
teams came during the final hours of the Centurion test when Vaughan clearly
expected Smith to shake hands on an honourable draw before the scheduled
close of play when England were four wickets down. Smith disagreed and the
two exchanged comments that could mostly politely be described as 'verbal
England assistant coach Matthew Maynard, who was a no-nonsense 'hard
man' throughout a 15-year first-class career, abandoned all notion of a
'fair fight' on arrival in Kimberley when he justified the tourists' last
minute decision to retain Matthew Hoggard for the one-dayers by saying that
Smith was scared of Hoggard and had hidden at number five in the batting
order as "protection."
Smith's volatile temperament has been tested by Vaughan throughout the
series by abusive and provocative comments. Since Stephen Fleming's success
with the tactic almost a year ago, the South African captain is going to
have to get used to his opposition mouthing off.
But nothing Vaughan has said will have irked Smith more than Maynard's
cheap shot. It has almost certainly ended any chance of Smith batting in the
middle order with Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers opening the batting,
as had been mooted. Smith has never backed down from a challenge - or a
bowler - in his life and he's not about to let people beleive he's started
Then, of course, there is the Kevin Pieterson / Andre Nel element to
consider. It would be hard to find two more inflammatory characters in the
game, at domestic or international level. They will incite and attract
controversy in equal measure and will enjoy doing it.
Obviously we should all hope the niggle stays within the bounds of
enjoyable viewing, but I suspect there will be flash points than we have
seen in any series in the last five or six years. Enjoy the contest - and be
appreciative of the fact that you are watching two teams going for the kill.