David Warner's leadership role as Australia's vice-captain has been emphatically endorsed by the coach and selector Darren Lehmann, ahead of the Cricket Australia board meeting on Friday where the events of the Durban Test match and the image they projected are sure to be discussed.
As both Australia and South Africa wait to hear whether Warner and Quinton de Kock will be charged under the ICC code of conduct after their ugly confrontation in the stairwell between the two dressing rooms at Kingsmead on day four of the Test, Lehmann took the opportunity to defend Warner in the strongest terms, while also indicating he wanted the two captains and coaches to sit down together before the start of the second Test in Port Elizabeth to discuss player behaviour.
Having only recently led the Australian Twenty20 side to a triangular series victory over New Zealand and England - sacrificing much of his preparation time for the South Africa Tests in the process - Warner remains highly regarded as a leader in the national team, admired for the aggressive way in which he pursues opponents with the bat and in the field.
"No, he's vice-captain of the Australian cricket team," Lehmann said when asked whether Warner's post as deputy to Steven Smith was under question. "We're certainly supporting David. We want to play a way that gets us success and for us we've just got to make sure we don't cross the line, that's the key."
"There are things that cross the line and evoke emotion and you've got to deal with that behind closed doors and get better at that. Everyone has their own opinion. We'll just wait and see what happens moving forward, how both teams want to play it. For us, we're here to win the series. It's going to be a bloody tough series as we've seen over the five days here. We're looking forward to PE from our point of view."
The two sides are in open dispute as to what fuelled the stairwell encounter, captured on Kingsmead's CCTV and leaked to the media before the fifth and final day of the match, which Australia won by 118 runs. Lehmann said he wanted to meet with his opposite number Ottis Gibson, and also encouraged Smith and Faf du Plessis to do likewise.
"I'm sure the captains will chat and the coaches will chat and we'll get away to play the game," Lehmann said. "Both sides are going to push the boundaries. That's part and parcel of Test match cricket. It's a bloody tough game out there and you're representing your country. Very proud countries, both sides. The way they want to play is fiercely competitive on the ground. As long as it doesn't get personal, that's probably the key.
"It's hard, especially when you want to talk about a great game of cricket it takes away a bit. From our point of view, the cricket is the most important. It was a really good game of cricket. We played well, there were ups and downs in the game. It's going to be a tight series this one, there's no doubt about that. It's going to be played very hard on the field by both sides, it looks like."
Ever since Lehmann replaced Mickey Arthur as coach in mid-2013, the Australian side has been given full backing by the CA board and the chief executive James Sutherland to play the way they believe will gain the best results. This was in contrast to earlier episodes in which CA either sought to improve the team's on-field behaviour, as happened after the Glenn McGrath/Ramnaresh Sarwan bust-up in the West Indies in 2003, or put bilateral relations with India ahead of backing Andrew Symonds against Harbhajan Singh in 2008.
In 2015, Ricky Ponting pointed out that the hostile way in which the Australians played was intrinsic to their success, and to try to change that would only hurt results. "If you keep toning us down, toning us down, you'll make us the same as everybody else," Ponting had said. Warner has gone through several phases as an on-field presence, from the "attack dog" persona of 2013-14, to "the reverend" from 2015 to 2017 and the more recent return to his former aggressive ways.
There is precedent for the board stripping players of the vice-captaincy for behavioural issues. In 1997 Ian Healy was removed from the post in favour of Steve Waugh after he was fined for showing dissent to an umpire's decision in a Test match against South Africa at Centurion, though the move was also thought to be about the board's preferred candidate to replace Mark Taylor if his run of poor batting form continued. Then, in 2000, Shane Warne lost the role as Waugh's deputy to Adam Gilchrist, following a string of bad off-field headlines that had little to do with cricket.
Warne stated on Tuesday that verbal exchanges had long been a part of Australia's bouts with South Africa, but that personal taunts were out of bounds. "Chat, banter, sledging has always been apart of any series between SA & Oz," he wrote on Twitter. "Both sides always give it out. Respect is the key & I hope nothing personal was said to any player towards anyone from either side. Have a beer together afterwards & get on with it - stop the whinging!"
Lehmann, meanwhile, pointed out how Nathan Lyon had taken his medicine from the ICC for dropping the ball on AB de Villiers after his run out and also apologised to the Proteas batsman. "It was probably a bit cheeky," Lehmann said. "The great thing about it, he apologised to AB straight away. He sent him a text, spoke to him today and it's dealt with. That's how it should be as grown men."