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Cricket | Australia tour of South Africa 2017/18

Neil's Diary - SA home season: Week 11

Sunday, 18 March

Three days holiday in the middle of a major tour – and consecutive days, too. It used to be a regular occurrence in years gone by, but is now a luxury. Not that the Australian media have enjoyed their scheduled break.

As organised as the tourists were in stock-piling interviews with players on an embargoed basis, the unfurling of the Kagiso Rabada ‘appeal’ has kept them busy.

Whereas South African media houses and their consumers are no less interested in proceedings, there is much less of an imperative, and far less competition.

When a former president has spent nine years and R15 million of tax payers money avoiding charges of bribery and corruption, and then faces the prospect of charges being reinstated, the nation’s collective interest in the possibility of the best fast bowler in the world being available to play in the remaining two test matches seems marginally less important than it may do to our visitors.

Nonetheless, it is fascinating to witness the extent (and cost) to which CSA are prepared to go in proving, if not Rabada’s innocence, then the disproportionate punishment meted out to him.

Advocate Dali Mpofu is the high profile face and voice of the ‘defence’, but there is a significant team of experts doing the ‘hard yards’ behind him.

Their arguments will be that Steve Smith had equal opportunity to avoid the ‘contact’ with Rabada and that the punishment was completely out of line with so many others, not just in this series but in others around the world.

CSA will be mounting a ‘full on’ legal case. In other words, “the law” – not an administrative body’s internal Code of Conduct.

The ICC have never given legal training to their match referees because, obviously, they are not legal people.

They are former cricketers and entrusted to apply their knowledge and understanding of the game to real life situations. Except they aren’t.

They are told to bend and mould their understanding of the game to fit the penalties as prescribed in the Code of Conduct.

No appeal against an ICC sanction has ever been successful. This one won’t be, either.

Unless CSA decide to take their appeal to an entirely independent court – a labour court, for example. Is Rabada being unfairly – or illegally – denied his right to work?

No doubt everybody will back down at the 11th hour, Rabada will be sidelined and the series will continue.

The best we may hope for, possibly, is that the demerit points system, as well intentioned as it was, is brutally flawed.

Not brutally toward the players, but the game. Especially test cricket.

Friday, 16 March

You wouldn’t always think so by watching him on the cricket field, but Kagiso Rabada actually disguises his emotions very well.

While a significant portion of the cricket playing world was debating the merits (and demerits) of his suspension and pending appeal, he spent most of Thursday conducting a coaching clinic at Laerskool Doringkloof Primary in Centurion.

It was a commitment to his sponsor, Nissan, but there was no sense of ‘duty’ about the way he engaged with the kids and charmed all those around him. One day, I suspect, he will make an amazing father.

In the meantime, he hopes against hope that CSA and his newly appointed advocate, Dali Mpofu, will be able to convince the independent Judicial Commissioner that he does not deserve to be charged with a Level 2 offence for his ‘clash’ with Australian captain Steve Smith. And that the demerit points given to him by the ICC were inappropriate.

He has been charged under the ICC’s Code of Conduct five times now in the last 18 months. It is the record of a true ‘bad boy’ of sport.

It was instructive to read what former England captain and now the game’s leading writer, Michael Atherton, made of it all in his column for The Times of London yesterday:

“It all sounds bad until you watch each of Rabada’s “misdemeanours” in isolation. To call the shoulder barges against (Sri Lankan batsman Niroshan) Dickwella and Smith as such is an insult to shoulder barges. The faintest brush of sleeves would be more appropriate. He shouted a swear word when he dismissed Ben Stokes, not at him, mind. He waved Dhawan cheerily on his way, after the batsman hooked into the deep, and screamed in celebration in Warner’s face upon the dismissal. Taken in isolation each incident was trifling: none was premeditated, all occurred organically and spontaneously after the culmination of intense effort.”

Wednesday, 14 March

South Africa’s and Australia’s cricketers have all been given three or four days off to spend time with their families, explore the country or just watch Planet Earth and reruns of their favourite movies.

This is a good thing after the emotional and physical intensity of the first two test matches.

Some of the Australian media contingent took the opportunity to visit to Addo Elephant Park – and they loved it! Many thanks to the EP Tourism Board for organising that. It was not my intention when I mentioned it on air, but good for you! I know the boys have all written and broadcast good things about it.

In times like these interviews with players need to be ‘stock-piled’ and given embargoes. So sometimes they all seem to hit our screens at the same time.

Now that Kagiso Rabada is out of the series, Mitchell Starc felt comfortable enough to praise him – and sympathise with his tendency to celebrate wickets too close to the outgoing batsman.

“I think that's the biggest one, how close you get to the batsmen these days. It's very much a no-no. He's only young and made a couple of mistakes, but I'm sure he'll learn going forward that you just can't get that close to the batter and the [umpires] are going to be on you at all times. He's a fantastic bowler to watch when he's in full flight, and he's going to keep taking wickets and keep celebrating. Maybe [he needs to be] just moving away from the batter a little bit, which I think I've learnt in the past as well when I was a bit younger."

Equally demure was Australia’s fielding coach, Brad Haddin, whose verbal conduct during his stellar playing career painted a stark contrast.

"Everyone needs to take a step back. Let's start playing cricket more on skill and less on emotion. Both sides have been guilty of things they're probably not proud of over the last two test matches. But we're 1-1, it's time to play some cricket on skill and leave that other stuff to the side. It's disappointing for Rabada.

"I know the South Africans, playing us, I've heard them say a couple of times this is their big series, and now he's got to sit back and watch what's going on out there. It will be interesting to see how he comes back after that, because he'll be hurting, no doubt, over the next couple of test matches."

Tuesday, 13 March

To see Faf du Plessis and his wife, Imari, travelling back to Cape Town with their baby girl was to see a man at ease with himself and life.

He certainly has a perspective on life off the field and outside cricket – and therefore on the field, too.

All the ‘noise’ with Warner, De Kock, Rabada and Steve Smith is gone from the captain’s mind when Amelie is picking pieces out of an SAA lounge sandwich following an hour’s delay in departure.

Smith was asked after the game whether Rabada’s ‘send-offs’ were frustrating for batsmen.

“Perhaps, and I think it's something the ICC's been trying to crack down on for some time and just trying to ensure that things look sportsmanlike out on the field. It's probably the time that they don't need to celebrate as much, they've just got your wicket and you're on your way, so it's a time to just chill out and be happy that it's done,” Smith said.

The Australian captain said he could empathise with the job Du Plessis has in keeping control of Rabada – he has a similar task with his own fast bowlers.

“It can be difficult at times. You want to see guys enjoying themselves and getting in the battle and it's just about ensuring that they don't go over the line, and make sure they stay within the boundaries of what's acceptable and what's not. Sometimes guys are going to go over the top and probably get done for it, but it's about trying to stay within the boundaries.”

Match Referee Jeff Crowe had given both teams a stern talking to before the St.George’s Park test – did it have an effect on his team?

“I thought we behaved really well in this game. I don’t think we have any indiscretions as far as I know. Unless something has come up today. But, I think we played in really good spirit. We battled hard and played good, hard cricket and no-one overstepped the line, which is pleasing.”

A little while later Mitchell Marsh was fined 20 per cent of his match fee for telling Rabada to “f*** off you c***” after being bowled by him. So not quite perfect behaviour. Warner? “He was well behaved too. No, look, I think we played the game in really good spirit and it was pleasing that we did that. Obviously, we are on the wrong end of the result, unfortunately. We were outplayed, but we played the game in good spirit.”

Smith became a little defensive when asked about the possibility that teams might ‘target’ members of the opposition who were close to suspension – to try and goad them into a further indiscretion which might tip them over the suspension edge.

“Can you explain that to me?” he said. It was explained again.

“I don’t know. I guess that’s up to whatever team wants to do that kind of thing, but I certainly don’t think I baited Kagiso in any way. That’s how I felt anyway.”

We all need to hope that “aggressive cricket” is restricted to “positive and assertive body language” as Du Plessis says he prefers, rather than foul language as we have seen and heard in the first two tests.

“I think that both sides have given their fair amount at times and if you give it you have got to be willing to cop it as well. I think that’s part of playing international sport. You have got to be willing to take it if you hand it out, that’s for sure,” Smith said.

Wouldn’t it be nice if neither team felt the need to “hand it out”.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10


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