Cape Town – The cricket was just as hard and uncompromising … and perhaps even then some.
But when it came to the “verbals”, somehow the whole vibe just seemed wittier, classier, that key bit more sophisticated than what has come to light in the fractious afterglow of David Warner v Quinton de Kock (and other flashpoints) at Kingsmead.
South Africa and Australia locked horns in back-to-back, three-match series (away, then home, from a SA perspective) in 1993/94, their first meetings of the post-isolation period, and the results said everything about the closeness of the combat: 1-1 and 1-1.
The Baggy Greens had such steely figures as Allan Border, David Boon and an up-and-coming Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
South Africa? Their own gnarly characters like Kepler Wessels, Peter Kirsten, Fanie de Villiers … and Brian McMillan.
Welkom-born and Carletonville-raised – neither a gentle place – “Big Mac” was SA’s primary, genuine all-rounder, a broad-shouldered fellow who wielded a broad, dogged bat and bowled a heavy ball.
And between him and the later to become legendary leg-spinning “Warney”, came probably the most captivating sledging of the six slugfests.
In the heat of one battle, McMillan had to scramble to stave off a run-out after a miscommunication with his partner, hastily ending up back at the end he’d set off from.
“Looks like you don’t fancy it very much, Depardieu (a suggestion McMillan vaguely resembled the French actor – Sport24),” reportedly observed Warne.
“Listen,” instantly fired back McMillan, “a lot of people go missing every day in South Africa and one more wouldn’t be noticed …”
There have been suggestions McMillan also volunteered – a proposal kindly rejected – to deploy Warne as bait on his next shark-fishing expedition.
But it gets even better … or at least more memorable, depending on whose side of the barrel you were. While the Australians lunched at the Wanderers Test, in marched a gun-toting McMillan, having borrowed the firearm from a nearby policeman.
“Right, I’ve had enough of you Australians,” he told the startled audience before him.
When the initial shock had subsided, and stumps later drawn, the incident was recalled with suitable amusement over bilateral dressing-room beers.
Some 24 years later, McMillan takes a dim view, however, of the themes involved in the Warner/De Kock sledging that turned nasty in the pavilion stairwell.
Reports indicate that De Kock was branded a “bush pig” by Warner and other Australians, and received “remarks” relating to his mother and sister, whilst De Kock allegedly goaded Warner over certain of his wife Candice’s known prior relationships. But there is confusion over who started the verbal sparring.
“My first thoughts,” says McMillan, “are that if you can’t handle the whole chirping thing, then do your best not to get involved.
“But there is also a clear, unwritten law: don’t make it personal. Wives, girlfriends, kids, mothers and fathers … no, personal is offside.
“Whichever of those two started it all, on that too-close-to-the-bone basis, he was quite wrong.
“I find it hard to imagine Quinton would have initiated something like that, but he has the right to snipe back if he’s copping it. Remember that David Warner has a (history of conflict) with opponents.”
McMillan said the long-time bottom line with Australia was that they “come hard at you”, especially when they are in positions of dominance.
“Sometimes it is best to ignore certain players on the field. There will be some sledging again in Port Elizabeth (the second Test, from Friday) but we must try to let our performance there shut their mouths. Beating them usually works, but if it goes the other way again … well, they’re all over you.
“We saw in the last Ashes how dangerous they are when they know they have their opponents stuck on the back foot.”
The now 54-year-old, based in Cape Town, urged the Proteas, if they intend to crank up their own levels of hostility at St George’s Park, to make it a “focused aggression” rather than one detrimentally affecting their more orthodox cricket aspirations.
“We simply have to come back at PE: go 2-0 down there and the rest of the series could quickly become a nightmare; careers could be shortened.”
That said, McMillan is also insistent that ageing senior players like Hashim Amla mustn’t be made to feel as if they are playing for their futures yet.
“It is bullshit to say he is finished, or that his eyes have gone … all that stuff. We need to stick with the senior pros; class is permanent.”
McMillan said he was “quite surprised” not to see Lungi Ngidi featuring among the Proteas attack in Durban, and hopes he comes strongly into the selectors’ thoughts for PE.
“But it is also important that our tail-enders work on getting to grips a bit more with Mitchell Starc’s reverse swing.
“The Aussie attack is perhaps a tad better than ours right now, but I also still think that our batting, at least on paper, should have the measure of theirs if our superstars can show the kind application we saw from Aiden Markram.
“We’ve just not been getting enough runs on the board.”
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