A dramatic Test series is unfolding in South Africa, the script assembled somewhere in pace-bowlers’ heaven. There’s undiluted thrill in watching 22-year-old elastic-limbed Kagiso Rabada float through the crease and shatter the stumps. Disappointingly, though, following what would go down in history as the “Rabada Test”, will be a couple of “Rabada-less” Tests. The ICC’s two-match ban on the pacer for on-field indiscipline hasn’t been a popular decision, especially in times of debate about five-day cricket’s longevity and relevance.
Whenever Australia strode back into the game, Rabada stalked them. Nothing was more telling perhaps than his dismissal of Steve Smith in the first innings. It was a method fast bowlers chalked out a long time ago — swinging the ball into Smith’s whirling legs — but Smith would generally whip such balls through mid-wicket. Rabada, though, was a few yards quicker. It was like Imran Khan unleashing one of his banana inswingers with the pace of Shoaib Akhtar. For once, Smith ended up like a juggler’s one-legged pirouette.
Yet, Rabada, claiming his fourth 10-wicket match haul, ended his 28th Test in dejection. He would serve a two-match ban, the demerit points he’d collected for brushing Smith’s shoulder adding to the points he had already logged in. In his hearing, Rabada cursed his petulance but was it really an instance of bad conduct? He didn’t spray expletives or abuse. He just expressed, like most fast bowlers would, a rush of emotion. A warning would have sufficed. But the ICC these days has tied itself into knots by the rules of rigid governance. In a bid to deter regular offenders, the ICC keeps the demerit points alive for a year after the incident, even if the player has been punished for the same offence. In Dale Steyn’s words, the system is like “taking a knife to the gun-fight, unfair”. And cricket is the loser.