David Warner joined Australia’s charm offensive on Thursday ahead of the first Twenty20 international against South Africa at the Wanderers Stadium, a ground renowned for being among the most intimidating in the world.

The match will be Australia’s first in South Africa since the infamous “Sandpaper-gate” tour of 2018 and will mark the return in front of South African crowds of former captain Steve Smith and opening batsman Warner, both banned for a year for their role in the scandal.

The Wanderers ‘bullring’ is likely to be packed to its capacity of just under 30,000. It is a noisy venue and especially so when Australia are the opposition.

But all opposition teams are regarded as fair game. As recently as last month, England’s Ben Stokes was provoked into swearing at a mouthy spectator after he was dismissed in the fourth Test match.

The Australians have tackled the issue head on, from their arrival press conference where coach Justin Langer said how much Australian teams “love coming to South Africa”, through to exposing both Smith and Warner to media conferences where they talked about the warm welcome they had received from South Africans.

Smith also tweeted how a visit to a Soweto school for children with special needs was a “humbling experience”. Warner admitted on Thursday that walking into the airport and the hotel they left in disgrace two years ago evoked memories that “weren’t great”.

But, he added, “the last few days every single person we’ve come across has asked for a photo or people we’ve spoken to have had nothing but great words. They’ve welcomed us to the country and been really polite. It’s been incredible how much support we’ve had from the public.”

Whether the Wanderers crowd will be so welcoming is debatable but Warner said he didn’t anticipate any problems. “It’s one-day cricket and T20 cricket. We don’t have much time to get under each others’ skins,” he said.


As for the crowd noise, he said: “Every time you play Twenty20 cricket you can’t hear anything, it’s so loud and fast. You’re only ingrained in what’s in front of you. “When I’m batting it’s that white ball and when I’m fielding it’s, watch my captain and make sure I’m staying focused.”

He said the Wanderers was not a uniquely hostile environment and he offered an oblique warning to potentially rowdy spectators. “They’re representing their country as well, they’re spectators watching a game of cricket. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to walk away with teams criticising the way they’re acting.”

Smith spoke in similar vein the previous day, saying “It’s nice to be back playing in South Africa. “The last time I was here, things didn’t end overly well but I’ve also got really fond memories of playing here.”

He agreed with Langer that spectator abuse during last year’s tour of England had been a good dress rehearsal for his return to South Africa. “I don’t notice it, particularly when I’m batting,” he said. “Maybe a little bit when I’m fielding, but then again, it’s just words, it doesn’t affect me.”

Jacques Faul, acting chief executive of Cricket South Africa, has asked fans to “respect” the Australians and warned that unruly spectators could be ejected from the ground.