Former Australia skipper Steve Smith says his first visit to South Africa to face the Proteas since ‘sandpapergate’ has proven to be far less uncomfortable than anticipated.
Smith copped a one-year ban from Cricket Australia for his involvement in a ball-tampering scandal that sparked a review into the culture of the game in Australia.
Smith marvels at South Africa’s hospitality
The quirky but brilliant batsman says that his interactions with South Africans have so far been very friendly with little or no mention being made of the tampering incident.
“It’s nice to be back playing in South Africa,” Smith told gathered press on Wednesday. “The last time I was here things didn’t end overly well, but I’ve also got really fond memories of playing here.
“Just walking into the hotel in Sandton, initially I was like, ‘the last time I left here it wasn’t pretty’. It wasn’t the best time in my life. But I’ve moved on from that and learned a lot.
“I’ve been back playing for a year now. I’m really enjoying it and I feel like I’m playing well. I’m in a nice place.
“Everywhere I have been the people have been lovely. Guys have come up and taken some photos and been really nice.
“It’s been normal, the same as compared to when I’ve been here previously. It’s a terrific place to tour and I’m glad to be back.”
Series against the Proteas part of a redemption arc
That friendly vibe is expected to fade quickly when Australia take to the field to face the Proteas, with the first match scheduled to take place at the Wanderers on Friday.
Smith said that being in England for the Cricket World Cup and the Ashes was something of a dress rehearsal for the team’s return to the scene of the crime.
The 30-year-old sees this trip as part of his redemption and says crowd banter doesn’t really get to him when he is on the park. He also noted that South African crowds have never really needed a reason to direct hostility at touring Aussies.
“I think they’re hostile here at the best of times,” he said.
“It doesn’t bother me too much. [Coach] Justin [Langer] said the other day that we had the dress rehearsal in England. There was a fair bit going on there.
“I don’t notice it, particularly when I’m batting. Maybe a little bit when I’m fielding, but then again, it’s just words, it doesn’t affect me. It’s about getting on with the job.”
The Proteas meet Australia in a Twenty20 International at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Friday 21 February from 18:00.