JOHANNESBURG: Australia batsman Steve Smith says his reception in South Africa has been "lovely" on his first tour since the infamous 'Sandpapergate' scandal, but expects that to change when he steps onto The Wanderers on Friday.
Australia take on hosts South Africa in the first match of a three-game Twenty20 International series at a ground nicknamed 'The Bull Ring' for its hostile atmosphere, where England's Ben Stokes had an altercation with a fan as recently as last month.
Smith and team mate David Warner were banned by Cricket Australia for a year, and Cameron Bancroft for nine months, after their involvement in an attempt to alter the state of the ball using sandpaper during a test tour of the country in March 2018.
"It's nice to be back playing in South Africa," Smith told reporters on Wednesday. "The last time I was here things didn't end overly well, but I’ve also got really fond memories of playing here.
"Just walking into the hotel in Sandton, initially I was like, 'the last time I left here it wasn't pretty'. It wasn't the best time in my life. But I've moved on from that and learned a lot.
"I've been back playing for a year now. I'm really enjoying it and I feel like I'm playing well. I'm in a nice place."
Smith says there have been no signs of animosity from South African fans off the pitch. In fact, quite the opposite.
"Everywhere I have been the people have been lovely. Guys have come up and taken some photos and been really nice," he said.
"It's been normal, the same as compared to when I've been here previously. It's a terrific place to tour and I'm glad to be back."
But he expects that to change once the games begin, especially at one of South Africa's most intimidating venues.
"I think they're hostile here at the best of times," he said.
"It doesn't bother me too much. (Coach) Justin (Langer) said the other day that we had the dress rehearsal in England (last year). There was a fair bit going on there.
"I don't notice it, particularly when I'm batting. Maybe a little bit when I'm fielding, but then again, it's just words, it doesn't affect me. It's about getting on with the job."
The Twenty20 series starts in Johannesburg, before moving to Port Elizabeth on Sunday and finally Cape Town next Wednesday. The sides will then clash in three ODI matches.
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge)