It’s time to get back to cricket

It’s difficult to recall a sport disciplinary matter that has captured the country’s imagination quite like the Kagiso Rabada fiasco.

After Rabada was disciplined for a tender shoulder nudge on Australian captain Steve Smith at St George’s Park, the Proteas were expected to be without their seamer for the next two Test matches — both against the same opposition.

National selectors even went as far as to call up all-rounder Chris Morris and fast bowler Duanne Olivier to expand the bowling options in the squad. Both call-ups were presumed to offer a contingency in the case of a failed Rabada appeal.

But the appeal did not fail.

The chairperson of the hearing, Michael Heron, ruled that there was insufficient evidence to suggest significant malice on the part of the world’s best bowler and reduced the three demerit points to one, bringing his tally below the ban threshold.

But because the bowler with a penchant for overzealous celebration was still sanctioned, he is presumably a look in the wrong direction away from another ban.

For as long as he is available, however, he will bowl. On Thursday he took to the crease at Newlands in what has become a crucial third game for two of the world’s top three Test nations. Should Rabada end day five with anywhere close to his previous 11/150, Australia will curse the mere concept of an appeal.

“We are very happy that he is allowed to play,” head coach Ottis Gibson said this week.

The former West Indies international was largely unperturbed by his bowler’s actions, insisting that ebullience is part of the game.

“We believe that it is the right decision at the end of the day. He has been made aware of his on-field celebrations. I don’t want to say ‘behaviour’ because he is not a badly behaved kid; he is just excitable and exuberant at times. When you are playing the best team in the world, sometimes that will come out of you.”

Although the post-hearing tone around the camp is understandably celebratory, there were some honest words floating around before his exoneration. KG himself was introspective and admitted he would do well to curb his enthusiasm to avoid another potential ban.

Former Test captain AB de Villiers also weighed in, suggesting the rest of the team would try to block future danger. He also provided the vital point that the mindset of a professional bowler probably can’t be comprehended by the rest of us.

“In a way I understand it. Dale [Steyn], when he’s on fire, you don’t even know what’s going on in that mind; you just see eyes and all sorts of stuff,” he joked.

“Luckily for him he has never really crossed that line but I think it’s because we get to him so we’ll try get to KG before he does the damage.”

Fast forward to the hearing and South Africa stood united behind Rabada.

The public and media venerated his representative Dali Mpofu. Non-cricket followers were eager to add to the swelling cries of injustice. Vernon Philander conducted the choir who sang of Smith’s “football dive”. Even Bakkies Botha dived in and insinuated that a shoulder barge from him might produce a different result.

Smith himself was not coy about his disappointment at the decision to waive the ban.

“Obviously they have deemed the contact not to be deliberate. I certainly think he bumped me a little bit harder than it actually looked,” he said. “It’s pretty interesting when you’re looking for evidence and those kinds of things. The other person involved not getting asked about it is pretty interesting.

“What’s the point of over-celebrating and getting in the face of a batter? You have already won the battle. But they have obviously decided what’s deliberate contact and what’s not — and apparently it wasn’t.”

Although his remarks can easily be dismissed as sour grapes, there is merit to echoing his question: Why was he not asked to provide evidence? Especially considering that the chairperson cited a lack of it as the main reason for allowing Rabada to bowl this week.

On Saturday, a game between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka did the conspiracy theories about International Cricket Council (ICC) bias no harm. The former’s captain, Shakib Al Hasan, and a reserve player of theirs, Nurul Hasan, were involved in what was, by all accounts, a hot-tempered affair. One demerit point was handed out to each and 25% docked from their match-day fee — similar to Rabada’s final punishment.

Hasan had got into a verbal spat and waved a finger accusingly at Thisara Perera, while he had been sent on to the pitch to bring water bottles and instructions to the on-field batsman. Hasan, meanwhile, had sought to protest an umpiring decision by attempting to beckon the batsman of the pitch.

Why did the ICC initially deem Rabada’s actions to be worth two demerit points more than these, which reflected a truly ugly spirit of the game? Whatever the answer to these questions, we all finally get some cricket to enjoy after an exhausting week of back and forth.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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