It’s bare knuckle time

You don’t have to have been particularly vigilant in the build-up to the one-day series to have noticed that the gloves used during the test series have been quietly slipped off. Tension has been simmering between the teams virtually since England arrived but they stuck by the rules, by and large.

Now I predict the lid is about to blow off the boiling cauldron of animosity. Ironically, the man who will be responsible for maintaining discipline on the field for the next seven games – match referee Clive Lloyd – has played a significant role in creating the foul moods currently presiding in both camps.

The former West Indian captain’s decision to fine Michael Vaughan his entire match fee for a mildly critical request for the umpires to show consistency rightly infuriated the England camp – but not nearly as much as his feeble acquiescence in the face of Andre Nel’s histrionic abuse of just about every England batsman he bowled to.

The first public sign that relations were deteriorating between the teams came during the final hours of the Centurion test when Vaughan clearly expected Smith to shake hands on an honourable draw before the scheduled close of play when England were four wickets down. Smith disagreed and the two exchanged comments that could mostly politely be described as ‘verbal jousting.’

England assistant coach Matthew Maynard, who was a no-nonsense ‘hard man’ throughout a 15-year first-class career, abandoned all notion of a ‘fair fight’ on arrival in Kimberley when he justified the tourists’ last minute decision to retain Matthew Hoggard for the one-dayers by saying that Smith was scared of Hoggard and had hidden at number five in the batting order as “protection.”

Smith’s volatile temperament has been tested by Vaughan throughout the series by abusive and provocative comments. Since Stephen Fleming’s success with the tactic almost a year ago, the South African captain is going to have to get used to his opposition mouthing off.

But nothing Vaughan has said will have irked Smith more than Maynard’s cheap shot. It has almost certainly ended any chance of Smith batting in the middle order with Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers opening the batting, as had been mooted. Smith has never backed down from a challenge – or a bowler – in his life and he’s not about to let people beleive he’s started now.

Then, of course, there is the Kevin Pieterson / Andre Nel element to consider. It would be hard to find two more inflammatory characters in the game, at domestic or international level. They will incite and attract controversy in equal measure and will enjoy doing it.

Obviously we should all hope the niggle stays within the bounds of enjoyable viewing, but I suspect there will be flash points than we have seen in any series in the last five or six years. Enjoy the

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