The fall-out from Australia’s nail-biting Test series win in South Africa earlier this year continues to settle as the fierce rivals prepare to once more do battle in the current one-day tri-series in Harare.
South Africa’s ODI captain AB de Villiers used his pre-match media conference to warn the Australians that they could not expect to forge friendships with his team if there were repeats of the personal sledging that threatened to overshadow the tourists' heroics in the final Test in Cape Town.
As his bowlers battled to capture the final defiant South African wickets and tensions rose during that epic last day at Newlands, a number of exchanges took place including one between Clarke, Australia's James Pattinson and fiery Proteas’ fast bowler Dale Steyn.
Clarke subsequently said he regretted the clash with Steyn in which he accepted that he had overstepped the boundary of combative on-field banter.
And batsman David Warner told Fox Sports’ ‘Back Page Live’ television show last night that accusing wicketkeeper de Villiers of ball tampering during that series – an accusation that cost Warner a $2900 fine from the ICC – “probably wasn’t the smartest thing, and I regret saying that”.
“I didn't know about that, but apology accepted,” de Villiers said when told of Clarke’s contrition before South Africa’s training session at the Harare Sports Club prior to today’s game.
“It was a hard fought series back in South Africa, there are definitely no hard feelings.
“You don't expect anything less when you play against an Australian team or for that matter one of the top three or four teams in the world.
“It's always a tough series and personally, as a batter, when I get sledged at the wicket I don't mind that at all.
“I really enjoy the challenge. Facing some of the best bowlers in the world is a huge privilege and I'm expecting to see more of that in this series.
“But in the same breath we're also here to win and to win this series, whatever it takes.”
But while de Villiers accepts that two evenly-matched combatants will always be searching for that slight advantage regardless of the form it takes, he does not believe personal insults aimed at individuals can remain solely on the field.
And, for that reason, any Australian player who engaged in that level of gamesmanship couldn’t expect the barbs to be forgotten over a beer at game’s end.
“(There was) lots of personal stuff and certain guys take it in a different way,” de Villiers said.
“I don't mind it, I laughed at a couple of the chirps I heard on the field in that particular Test match in Cape Town.
“It's part of the game, I see it in that way ... but they can't expect us to be mates with them off the field then if they get very personal.”
Having been in Zimbabwe for three weeks, during which time they played a Test and three-match ODI series against the host nation, the South Africans undertook a novel preparation for their re-match against Australia.
Instead of hitting the nets or simply lolling by a hotel pool, most of the Proteas’ squad headed to a safari lodge at Chikenya in the Mana Pools National Park near the Zimbabwe-Zambia border.
There, amid sightings of Africa’s big five (elephant, lion, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard) as well as hippopotamus and crocodiles and angling for tiger fish during the days, the squad gathered around campfires in the evening where the talk invariably turned to cricket.
“I don’t want any cricket conversation, but unfortunately it comes up all the time,” de Villiers said.
“The guys love the game and they love to talk about the game so around the campfire it came up quite a few times – how are we going to try and win this series.
“And we were there with the lodge owner as well, and he wanted to know why we haven’t won a World Cup and a few other things, so the cricket chat always comes up and I don’t mind it personally.
“I really didn’t expect the guys to hang around here in Harare and Bulawayo for three or four days not having much to do.
“There’s really not much to do if you stay in the cities here, so it was important to have time away and my type of time away is time in the bushveld.
“It just makes working hard on the cricket field here much easier when you come back after a trip like that.
“And you’re hungry for success once again, so I just feel that the whole team is in a really good space and we’re looking forward to this series.”