Ottis Gibson, the South African head coach, has insisted that his side's focus remains firmly on themselves and the cricket, despite off-field distractions making the headlines.
The lead-up to the second Test at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth has been fractious, with David Warner and Quinton de Kock fined 75 per cent and 25 per cent of their match fees respectively by the International Cricket Council. The two players were involved in a heated altercation near the teams' dressing room during the first Test between South Africa and Australia at Kingsmead in Durban, which the hosts lost by 118 runs.
Urging the players from both sides to "calm down and get back to cricket", Gibson said, “I’m happy for aggression being shown on the field if it’s coming from a bowler. If a fast bowler is bowling bouncers, to me that’s aggression. When everybody else is chirping and sledging, I’m not sure that’s aggression in my book.”
Speaking ahead of the second Test starting on Friday, he added, “The team morale is very good. We are the Proteas, we back each other up. We focus on us and we focus on the cricket.”
South Africa were found wanting against the pace of Mitchell Starc, with the left-arm fast bowler returning a match-haul of 9/109. Gibson accepted that his top-order batters needed to step up.
“We have to bat better,” he stressed. “In the second innings when our best batsmen were facing him (Starc), not to say he wasn’t a threat, but the threat wasn’t as great as when our lower-order batters were facing him. Our top-order batsmen have to bat a lot better.
"When you look at the nature of the pitch and the Aussie line-up, you feel that you need an extra batsman. We bowled them out twice but we weren’t able to get enough runs in the first innings. You can’t bat badly in your first innings against a top team like Australia and expect to win the match. We gave ourselves a good chance of winning in the end, the poor batting in the first innings cost us.”
“You can’t bat that badly in the first innings against a top team like Australia and expect to win a Test match. Even though we gave ourselves a good chance of winning in the end, the poor batting in the first innings really cost us.” - Ottis Gibson #SAvAUS pic.twitter.com/QgHgzKzQ8p— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) March 7, 2018
St George's Park has in general been a happy hunting ground for South Africa. They’re unbeaten in the last five Tests at the venue. The last time the Proteas faced Australia in a Test here was in 2013, which they won by 213 runs.
Meanwhile, Steve Smith confirmed that Australia would go with an unchanged XI. Echoing Gibson’s sentiments, Smith said the events of the past week had not affected the players and stressed they would be getting back to playing good cricket.
"I pulled the guys together this morning, just the playing group and said let's not let these incidents overshadow the way we played and get in the way of the way we want to play in this series," said Australia's captain.
"It's about continuing to play a good, hard aggressive brand, but knowing we don't want to cross the line. We want to stay within the spirit of the game and let cricket be the main thing on show. We just want to get back to playing good cricket and make sure we play them on skill and get the emotion out of it.”