Kagiso Rabada will find out if he will play any part in the remaining two Tests in the series on Monday, when match referee Jeff Crowe will announce his verdict after a hearing on Sunday evening. Rabada was charged with a Level 2 offence after a shoulder bump against Australia’s captain Steven Smith on the first day. He attended a hearing at the close of play on day three and Crowe now has 24 hours to make a decision. If found guilty, Rabada will have three demerit points added to the five he already has and will miss the rest of the series.
This would not be the first time Rabada has fallen foul of the ICC’s code of conduct or the first time he has been banned – he sat out the second Test against England last July – but though his team-mates are rallying around him, they also want him to start taking stock of his celebrations. “He’s got to be smarter and he knows that,” AB de Villiers said. “I don’t know what is going to happen to him after this Test but if he is around for the next Test match I think he would have learnt from his mistakes.”
De Villiers said that Rabada’s outbursts, which became multiple after he proceeded to give David Warner a send-off in the second innings (an act for which he has yet to be charged) were spontaneous reactions that bubbled up after an incident-filled first Test. Bad blood between the sides emerged at Kingsmead, where David Warner and Quinton de Kock were involved in a stairwell spat. Both were disciplined but tensions ran high in Port Elizabeth, where some sections of the crowd took it upon themselves to try to antagonise Warner.
Although on the field there was not as much chatter as usual, Rabada was one of the few with a lot to say. “There was a lot of emotion from that last Test match going into this one and once again, as a fast bowler, you want to prove things to people and you want to show everyone you belong on this stage,” de Villiers said. “In a way I understand it. Dale [Steyn], when he’s on fire, you don’t even understand what’s going on in that mind, you just see eyes and all sorts of stuff. Luckily for him he’s never crossed that line. But I think it’s because we get to him. We’ll try and get to KG before he does the damage.”
When Rabada next plays, South Africa’s senior players will look to hatch a plan to ensure Rabada reacts less aggressively in the direction of the opposition. “It’s up to some of our senior guys to just help him. It’s important to some of the players to get around him before he gets close to a batter to tell him ‘you know what? I just got you out.’ That’s what it basically comes down to except with more emotion. He wants to tell him ‘I just won that battle’. I would’ve been the same. You see me when I take a good catch and it’s a big wicket … thank goodness I’m not close to the batter because I think I’ll do the same thing. I have sympathy for the guys who cross the line but they’ve got to find a way.”
Even the opposition feel similarly. Australia bowling coach David Saker admitted that if he played today, he would be among those who get so fired up they sometimes can’t control themselves.
“I’m probably the worst person ever to be commenting on disciplinary … out there there’s a lot of passion, a lot of willingness to win a game of cricket, things sometimes don’t go your way and you get frustrated but I think the game has moved forward since the times I played,” Saker said. “If I played now I’d probably only play two games a year, so you’ve just got to be much more careful these days. But the game is so competitive, you’re trying to win for your country and sometimes you can go overboard but it’s not a great look.”
But Rabada may not get much sympathy from those who study his rap sheet. In January last year, Rabada received three demerit points after a shoulder barge on Niroshan Dickwella at an ODI in Cape Town. There, the match referee ruled that the contact made was “inappropriate and avoidable”. Then, in July, during the first Test against England at Lord’s, Rabada earned a fourth when he told Ben Stokes to “f*** off” after dismissing him. As a result, Rabada missed the second Test at Trent Bridge and was said to be “heartbroken” because he had let the team down.
Rabada seemed to may have understood the seriousness of the sanction at the time, but he did not remain chastened for long. In an ODI against India last month, he picked up another demerit point when he waved Shikhar Dhawan off the field after dismissing him and then told him to “f*** off” as well.
That meant Rabada came into this series with five points against him, which should have resulted in greater vigilance, especially given his importance to South Africa. Rabada is the leading wicket-taker in the series so far, with 12 scalps, and single-handedly bowled his team into a position of authority on the first day in Port Elizabeth, with five wickets in 18 balls. Losing him could have a significant effect on the series, especially if Steyn, who is targeting the Cape Town Test for a comeback, is unavailable. For Australia, though, not having to face Rabada would be nothing short of a blessing.
“He’s been probably one of the outstanding bowlers of the series so far and with his pace and the way he strikes, I think his strike rate’s one of the better ones in the world, it would be beneficial if we didn’t have to face him,” Saker said. “Too or three years ago when I first saw the guy, it was pretty exciting. He’s still a kid now, he’s just got this raw pace, his arm speed is quite amazing and he keeps running in. Like a lot of really good bowlers he gets wickets in clumps and puts pressure on the new batters. He’s hard to start against because of his pace. You wouldn’t be changing a thing. South Africa are very blessed to have him in their team.”