Australia and South Africa are at odds over the origins of the stairwell incident between David Warner and Quinton de Kock that has overshadowed the conclusion of the Durban Test. Australia believe de Kock's words crossed a line; South Africa insist that Warner got personal. The incident has forced the ICC match referee Jeff Crowe to tell both sides to cool it and avoid further ugly incidents over the remainder of the series.
Warner was captured on CCTV footage being physically restrained by team-mates as he walked up the stairs towards the dressing room during the tea interval on day four, after apparently taking issue with something de Kock had said. Australia's captain Steven Smith said de Kock's words to Warner were "personal" and "crossed the line" between what is acceptable and what is not, but also stressed that he did not believe the vice-captain had said anything personal to de Kock to instigate the exchange.
However South Africa have a quite different view of events, as outlined by their team manager Mohammed Moosajee. Asked whether the Australians had used personal words towards the South African players, Moosajee replied: "Definitely, definitely. Most definitely." When subsequently asked whether the personal words had been used by Warner, Moosajee answered: "Definitely."
Smith, who alongside Usman Khawaja is captured restraining Warner and motioning him towards the dressing room, denied the Australians had got personal. "What was said and done during that interval was regrettable on both sides," Smith said. "Obviously Quinton got quite personal and provoked an emotional response from Davey. And yeah I think those things are not on from both sides. Getting personal on the field is not on, that's crossing the line in my opinion.
"We were certainly very chirpy out on the field as well. As far as I'm aware we didn't get personal towards Quinton. As far as I'm aware I don't think it was personal at all. But Faf [du Plessis, South Africa's captain] can say what he likes I guess. That's from my opinion - and what I've heard form the guys as well. I'm not 100% sure but as far as I'm aware I don't think we got personal.
"But look, what he said got a little bit personal towards Davey and as we saw it certainly provoked an emotional response. Absolutely [understand the reaction], those things aren't on and you can't be getting into somebody's personal life like that. That's not on. It's crossing the line in my opinion. Right now it's in the hands of the umpires and the match referee, but we want to see the game played in a good, hard-fought way I guess in the next three Test matches."
As Australia's captain since 2015, Smith said he was comfortable with the level of aggression exhibited on the field by his players. "I think that's the way we play our best cricket, when we're aggressive," Smith said. "We're in the fight together, we're hunting as a pack, we're working for each other and backing our mates on the field... that's part of being an Australian in my opinion. I'm comfortable where it's all at, it's just ensuring we stay within the spirit of the game.
"I'm not sure if [Warner and de Kock] have spoken, maybe they're speaking down there now, I don't know, but both sides are obviously disappointed in the way it all came about. A few regrettable incidents from both parties and hopefully we can move on and play in the right spirit of the game."
Du Plessis was also seen intervening in the incident, and said he had told an irate Warner to go into his own dressing room. "I just heard the commotion and went outside, and just asked David to go into his dressing room, because it needs to stay on the field when you're chirping at each other," du Plessis said. "It doesn't need to go any further than that.
"For me if you chirp at each other it's always on the field and there need to be boundaries within that. I think both parties... from what I've heard there was a lot of personal stuff being said. To and from. Who started it, I don't know. I don't know [on] what matter. That [the topic] is obviously what made it go off the field. Us included, if you want to go personal, that needs to stay on the field."
Warner and de Kock shook hands at the end of the Test. A Cricket Australia spokesperson said that both team managers, Moosajee and Gavin Dovey, had been spoken to by match referee Crowe about the need for the two teams to calm down. "The incident was discussed between the two team managers and the match referee last night and it is now in the hands of the on field umpires and the match referee," the spokesperson said. "Both teams were reminded by the match referee of the spirit in which the game should be played."
It remains to be seen whether code of conduct sanctions will be laid over the episode, which took place at the tea interval on day four, either by the umpires, Crowe or the ICC chief executive David Richardson. The code states that they have until 3pm on the day following the match to deliberate on whether any players have a case to answer. Nathan Lyon has already accepted a sanction for a separate incident in which he dropped the ball near a prone AB de Villiers after the batsman's run out earlier on day four.