MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australia team still feeling reverberations from the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal will face their demons against South Africa in a one-day series starting in Perth on Sunday.
The teams meet for their first international clash since the ill-tempered test series wrapped up in Johannesburg in April with Australia’s reputation in tatters and three of their players sent home in disgrace.
While seven months have passed, Australian cricket has struggled to move on from the Newlands nightmare, and the release of a culture review this week re-opened the wounds.
The Longstaff report blamed Cricket Australia in part for the events in South Africa, and fierce reaction to its contents ultimately led to chairman David Peever resigning on Thursday.
As the board scrambles to rebuild its credibility, Aaron Finch’s Australia will hope to restore some faith in the national team with wins against the Proteas in the three-match series.
The on-field behaviour of both teams will be closely scrutinised given the overt hostility that blighted the test series, which South Africa won comfortably 3-1.
The tour was plagued by multiple incidents of misconduct and the bad blood spilled over into a stairwell altercation between David Warner and Quinton de Kock on the fourth day of the first test in Durban.
Along with former captain Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, Warner remains banned for his part in the ball-tampering scandal, which saw Bancroft caught on camera trying to hide a piece of sandpaper in his trousers while fielding.
While there will be no chance of another flare-up between Warner and wicketkeeper De Kock, Proteas captain Faf Du Plessis expects a frosty reception from Australian crowds.
“We are not expecting anything less. Zunaid our security officer has been working hard in the gym,” he remarked last month.
Australia enter the series with a dismal recent record, having won only two of their last 13 one-day internationals, a run that includes a 5-0 whitewash away to England.
Only seven months out from a World Cup being hosted in England and Wales, the world champions have slumped to sixth in the rankings.
Leaving aside the distractions of the Longstaff review, Australia suffered an injury scare on Friday, with Finch leaving the field with a bruised finger after being rapped on the glove by a Mitchell Starc delivery during training.
He was later cleared to play after a scan.
Fourth-ranked South Africa may be in better relative health but are also rebuilding and are without two of their most experienced players in injured batsman Hashim Amla and all-rounder JP Duminy.
The games in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart are likely be decided by the bowlers, however, with the quicks on both sides likely to dominate.
Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have recovered from injury to join Starc in Australia’s strongest attack, while Dale Steyn will lead Kagiso Rabada and rising talent Lungi Ngidi in a formidable fast bowling unit for the Proteas.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien