CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The South Africa-Australia cricket series plummeted to new depths on Friday, with the visiting Australians lodging an official complaint over what they called the "disgraceful" and abusive behavior of home fans during the third test in Cape Town.
A number of Australian players were subjected to verbal abuse from fans, including references to players' families, Australia coach Darren Lehmann claimed, telling reporters that Cricket Australia had officially complained to its host, Cricket South Africa.
"It's been disgraceful," Lehmann said. "You're talking about abuse of various players and their families and personal abuse. It's not on at a cricket ground anywhere around the world, not just here. It shouldn't happen."
The issue was first highlighted when Australia opening batsman David Warner was confronted by a fan and apparently verbally abused as he left the field after being dismissed.
Television footage shows Warner stopping in his tracks and turning to face the man, who then appeared to continue making comments as Warner walked up the stairs toward the Australia dressing room.
A security official tried to intervene but the man kept on going at Warner.
After facing the man for a few moments, Warner continued up the stairs.
That incident was not the only one, Lehmann said. He complained his team had also been subjected to abuse from the crowd in the first two tests, but it reached a crescendo in Cape Town on Friday.
"There's been various incidents throughout the test series but this one has taken the cake," Lehmann said. "They (the players) go hard on the ground, there's no doubt about that, but off the ground you don't expect that when you're leaving the ground .. you're having a go at someone's family. It's just disgraceful."
The man who confronted and directed comments at Warner was thrown out of the ground. Newlands authorities also reportedly ejected other fans for what they deemed offensive actions, which included songs directed at Australia players and T-shirts with slogans.
The spectator involved in the Warner incident was standing inside an exclusive members' stand and separated from Warner and the players' stairs by a small fence. As Warner came off the field and went up the stairs on his side, the middle-aged man, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and sunglasses, also walked up on his side and continued making comments at Warner.
The fan had started by applauding Warner, sarcastically it seems, as the Australian approached. He then became abusive.
Cricket South Africa acting chief executive Thabang Moroe said in a statement that officials planned to increase security at the ground.
"The events that transpired today were not tolerable and something that we don't want to see at any of our test matches," Moroe said. "We have since taken it upon ourselves to beef up our security personnel to ensure that players from both sides don't have to endure such unfortunate behavior."
Warner, a notoriously pugnacious player, has become a target for extra attention from home fans after his confrontation with South Africa's Quinton de Kock on a stadium staircase during the first test in Durban.
That heated argument, which led to ICC disciplinary hearings and sanctions for both players, was sparked by Warner's prolonged on-field taunting of de Kock. It resulted in de Kock allegedly retorting with an unsavory comment about Warner's celebrity wife, and Warner having to be physically restrained by teammates.
Fans also attempted to taunt Warner during the second test in Port Elizabeth by wearing masks with the face of New Zealand rugby player Sonny Bill Williams. It was in reference to a sexual encounter Warner's wife had with Williams years before she married the cricketer. Warner's wife, Candice Warner, and their two young daughters are traveling with him in South Africa.
The mask stunt had repercussions for South Africa's cricket body when two of its senior officials were photographed smiling with some of the fans wearing the masks. The two officials were suspended and face disciplinary procedures.
Cricket contests between Australia and South Africa have crossed the line before this series, although this one has been particularly ill-tempered.
The last time South Africa toured Australia, an Australian fan wrote graffiti at a ground referring to South Africa batsman Hashim Amla, who is a muslim, as a "terrorist."
"We can't control that (fan behavior), unfortunately," said South Africa player Morne Morkel, who is in the intriguing position of being married to an Australian. "There is a bit of alcohol and hot sun and those sorts of things. When we play in Australia ... I've got the same sort of abuse."
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP