Why Faf’s bullies are public enemy No.1
FAF du Plessis gritted his teeth during "Lollygate" and struggled to conceal his grin during "Sandpapergate".
If there's another gate to swing open when South Africa arrives this week for a blockbuster one-day series, the one certainty is the Proteas' polarising captain will be charging through it with his chest out.
The infamous events in South Africa earlier this year have put Australia in a precarious position where they're on a hiding to nothing with aggressive on-field behaviour. No one will relish holding the whip hand quite like du Plessis.
Match referee Jeff Crowe described the behaviour of Smith's Australia and du Plessis's South Africa in March as the most unacceptable he's seen in Test cricket. There is absolutely no love lost.
When David Warner almost came to blows with Quinton de Kock in the stairwell at Durban after their vicious sledging row, du Plessis popped up between them in nothing but a towel.
Asked once about a rare piece of clumsy fielding in which he failed to dive, du Plessis joked: "I didn't want to ruin my hair."
Australia have taken exception to du Plessis's showy personality and ego, but the feeling is mutual.
When du Plessis was suspended by the International Cricket Council two years ago for using a lolly to alter the condition of the ball in South Africa's series-sealing win over Australia in the second test in Hobart, the 34-year-old had a meltdown.
His devout Christian faith steeled him to appeal the Lollygate charges levelled against him, adamant it was fundamentally wrong to accept he had in any way cheated. The ICC subsequently rejected his appeal.
The other pantomime villain in the South African line-up sure to create a stir during the anticipated three-game series is wicketkeeper de Kock.
But while du Plessis's thick hide masks the fact he's actually a sensitive bloke, de Kock might be the simplest cricketing star on the globe and in many ways an unwitting villain.
The ugly path to Australia's self-destruction in Cape Town was set when de Kock brought David Warner's wife, Candice, into their on-field row as they entered the players' tunnel after a session.
There's an element of "loose cannon" about de Kock and everyone holds their breath when he has to address the media. But those close to him insist there's nothing malicious about him.
In fact, word out of the South African camp was de Kock merely told what to say by a couple of teammates who were sick of Warner's sledging.
This checks out for a freakish schoolboy sportsman whose parents were told by the headmaster of his private school, "I do hope that Quinton's cricket career works out for him because I fear there may be limited options elsewhere."
Like du Plessis with his Lollygate appeal, de Kock inexplicably tried to overturn his sanction for sledging Warner and lost.
South Africa's refusal to admit fault in almost any situation has become legendary.
Fast bowling sensation Kagiso Rabada appealed his seemingly unwinnable conviction of deliberately making aggressive contact with Steve Smith in the heat of the second Test in Port Elizabeth.
Amazingly, Rabada won his appeal and it was this sense of injustice that played a huge role in tipping Warner, Steve Smith and the Australians over the edge.
Aside from anything else, du Plessis and de Kock's villainous reputations have been forged by their uncanny ability to fire most when backed into a corner by Australia.
It's no coincidence who du Plessis' two finest career knocks have come in the country where he averages 83 against Australia. De Kock showed glimpses of Adam Gilchrist with his domination of Australian attacks two summers ago when South Africa won a series Down Under and he averaged a whopping 56.
The only difference this time is if du Plessis and de Kock, and for that matter Rabada, fire shots, Australia's attack dogs will be muzzled from a response.
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