Johannesburg — The Australia Test series cannot come soon enough for recalled Proteas batter Theunis de Bruyn.
The stylish Titans right-hander, who played his last of his 12 Tests for the Proteas three years ago in Ranchi, is champing at the bit to get stuck in against the Aussies again.
De Bruyn was part of the first Proteas team to beat Australia on home soil post-unity in an ill-tempered series back in 2018. Although the historic series was overshadowed by the “Sandpapergate” saga that sent Australian cricket spiralling after captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opening batter Cameron Bancroft were all embroiled in ball-tampering, it was also a highly-charged affair with Warner and Proteas wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock almost coming to blows on the Kingsmead staircase during the interval on the fourth day of the first Test.
The tension in both camps reached unprecedented levels with ICC match referee Jeff Crowe called upon on numerous occasions, most famously when Proteas fast bowler Kagiso Rabada allegedly shoulder charged Smith upon dismissal in the second Test in Gqeberha.
Despite it being four years since that eventful series, the Proteas tour to Australia will be the first time the two teams meet in a Test series since, and De Bruyn is bracing himself for a similar emotionally-charged affair that starts in Brisbane on December 17.
“I hope so. That’s why we want to play against Australia. It’s the toughest cricket you can play. If you look at the South African DNA, we don’t shy away from a fight, ” De Bruyn said.
“I read something this morning about what (former Proteas captain) Faf (du Plessis) said about the Test match in Durban, and that was spot on. They bullied us on our home ground, and it touched a nerve, and the whole changeroom got together, and I know it’s just cricket, but it became a little bit more than that.
“It was a highlight of my career, and I know people remember scores they made, but to be part of something as special as that … take away the sandpaper scandal … that’s gone, done and dusted. Just the bottom line of hard, tough Test cricket. And being a cricketer that is what you want to be a part of.”
Sledging, or rather mental disintegration, has long been a part of Australia’s cricket culture. However, after the banning of Smith and Warner, Australian cricket underwent an independent culture review, which found it to be an administration perceived as arrogant and dictatorial, and a national men's team the public felt had grown petulantly aggressive.
The Australian team have worked hard in trying to change their image, but De Bruyn is not expecting anything less than a full onslaught when the Proteas head Down Under.
“If you take rugby for instance, like (Springbok coach) Rassie (Erasmus) says, taking the opposition to the gutters, the Aussies like that. They like going into the dark places, and being in your space and coming hard, and us being humble and a bit withdrawn. But something changed in that Test match.
“I think though everyone has gotten older, times have changed, guys have played together, so it will be interesting to see when we get there,” he said.
Despite the expected barrage, De Bruyn will, though, be focusing hard to remain calm when he walks out to the crease, just like when he scored his maiden Test century against Sri Lanka in Colombo four years ago.
“That day was just a special mental state. The probably only time in my 12-match Test career that I was in a space of peace. It took away a lot of the pressure,” De Bruyn said.
“Saying that, I had three good weeks of preparation in Sri Lanka leading up to that Test match, knowing I would only be facing spin. And that’s what I trusted, and if I can simulate that emotional state in that innings for any game I play, I would be much more successful than I have been in my Test career. I wouldn’t know if I am a better player (now). But I definitely am wiser, and more mature.”