Johannesburg (AFP) – The first ball had not even been bowled at the Wanderers before new captain Tim Paine signalled a new era for Australian cricket.
At his suggestion, the Australian and South African teams lined up and shook hands with each other before starting play in the fourth and final Test of what has been a fractious and controversial series.
Appointed after former captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were banned following the third Test ball-tampering scandal, Paine said it was a gesture that he hoped would ease the tension between the two teams.
“I’ve been watching soccer,” he said. “I noticed they do that every game and I thought, cricket’s a gentleman’s game.
“I spoke to our players about bringing it in. It’s not something we’ll do every Test match but I think it’s not a bad way to start a Test series.
“It’s something we’ll probably do going forward. I think it’s just a good show of sportsmanship and respect.”
He said he had discussed the idea with South African skipper Faf du Plessis before the toss.
“He was happy to that. I think he thought it was a good idea.”
Paine admitted that relations between the teams needed to be improved.
“There’s been a lot of water gone under the bridge and a bit of tension between the two sides. We want to be super-competitive but we also want to respect the opposition and it was important to show that today.”
Paine said he had not thought too far ahead but he wanted to repair the damage done to the game by the events of the past week which had seen Smith, Warner and Bancroft banished over what has become dubbed ‘Sandpapergate’.
“We’re trying to take it one day at a time, trying to build back the respect of the cricket world, our fans and the cricket public,” said the 33-year-old Tasmanian.
“We know we’ve got a really long journey to get where we want to get to. The last couple of days have been the start of that long journey.”
There was a noticeable lack of the aggression that marked Australia’s approach in the first three Tests.
“I still think it was competitive,” said Paine after a day which had seen South Africa, 2-1 up in the series, pile up 313-6 at stumps.
“There wasn’t too much verbal going back and forth between the sides. We’ve spoken a bit about that as a group that going forward that’s not the way we’re going to play our cricket. It still felt like a Test match.
“We still want to keep a really competitive brand of cricket but there’s got to be times where we’re more respectful of our opposition, of the game of cricket.
“At times we’ve tended to push the boundaries as far as possible. We’ve seen that people probably don’t like that. It’s time for us to change. We’re happy to do that.
“I think it actually suits this group of players. We’re a different group of players than Australia have had for a long time. We haven’t got too many guys that like to verbalise and have that really hard-nosed Australian approach. We want to create an environment where guys can just come in and play cricket and be themselves.
“If we can achieve that I think we can achieve better results as well.
“It is important for us to realise how lucky we are and how privileged we are to be playing cricket for Australia.”