Warner charm helps South Africa forgive and forget
DAVID Warner poked his nose into the most notorious corner of cricket's Bull Ring and in the process pricked the balloon of any lingering tension on his return to South Africa.
Fully aware he was walking to the exact hornets' nest next to the players' race where players such Merv Hughes and Ben Stokes have been attacked - and hit back at hostile fans - Warner had eyes only for the autograph bats of a handful of South African kids hanging over the fence.
One fan in his early 30s saw Warner had put himself in the firing line from where he was sitting with his mates and raced over waving a sheet of sandpaper he had brought to the ground. That was before a ball was even bowled.
But despite his best attempts, SandpaperMan missed his target. Instead, half a dozen kids walked away from the fence beaming and staring at their signed bats.
Built up as public enemy No.1, to young Oliver and Dehan, Warner was simply the cricketer who made their day.
"They were very proud to get it," said their father Martyn.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime moment for my kid.
"That was two years ago," he said of the ball-tampering scandal in 2018, which resulted in Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft being banned.
"They've paid their dues."
When Steve Smith was stumped in the 12th over, SandpaperMan rose from his seat again, waving his piece of 80 grit about like it was a winning lottery ticket.
He received support from another fan who went the double-handed, middle-finger salute at Smith, yet once again they were two individuals in a crowd of 28,000 left largely flapping in the breeze.
Smith was booed loudly as he walked off, as he was when he smashed a Dale Steyn dead ball for four, and Warner was jeered when he was sent to field on the fence.
But this was nothing out of the ordinary for star players in foreign lands.
If anything, it was surprising how "unhostile" the crowd was, given its reputation as one of world cricket's most savage.
"The crowd were excellent today," said man-of-the-match Ashton Agar.
"It was awesome to see the respect that was shown after our anthem. I think the whole South African crowd stood up and applauded after our anthem. That's a massive sign of respect.
"When you're standing out there arm in arm and you look up to that massive stand and it's all South Africans it can be really intimidating. But when you see them stand and applaud after the anthem that's a great sign of respect."
Australia were certainly expecting worse - coach Justin Langer going to lengths of warning his players that what they faced in the UK last year was nothing compared with what was coming their way. Smith was also convinced he'd cop it.
He and Warner may have been bailed out somewhat by Mother Nature, with the east stand - Johannesburg's version of Bay 13 or Yabba's Hill - shut down due to safety fears after the ancient, rickety terrace area was damaged by rain in a storm a few days earlier.
It meant the thousands of liquored-up university students who usually sit there were dispersed through the ground.
A prolonged message from the stadium's ground announcer was projected before play encouraging patrons to report any instances of abuse.
It's always a dangerous practice, recommending to the masses how to behave - but on this occasion he needn't have wasted his breath because unlike the relentless crowds in England last winter that mercilessly baited Warner and Smith, The Wanderers faithful had clearly moved on.
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