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Rabada ban: Fair or over-policing of agression in cricket?

Kagiso Rabada
Kagiso Rabada
©REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Rabada getting into the personal space of Joe Root is condemnable and the paceman himself will concede it. But, despite understanding the mechanics of the ICC demerit point system, it seems a bit too harsh on the Protea quick.

There will be no lawyer to the rescue this time, as was the case during Rabada's shoulder brush with Steve Smith. The paceman just avoided a ban that time around, with it being initially deemed a level 2 offence. However his aggressive gesture after dismissing Joe Root on day one of the Port Elizabeth Test breaches level 1 of the ICC code of conduct, which cannot be appealed against.

Putting things into perspective

But, before we take shots at the 'serial offender', let's have a quick look at the backdrop in which this happened.

It was a hot day at the Saint George's Park, with England having won the toss and opting to bat first on a featherbed. There was not a lot of assistance for the pace bowlers. To add to that, Rabada was not given the new cherry, which he generally gets.

Regardless, the pacer bowled his heart out and created an impact. He softened Joe Root with a short delivery. The reaction to it was that Root was tentative to come on the front foot and remained way back to a good length ball. The result was that Root's off stump was knocked back and South Africa were pretty much in the game with the visitors reduced to 148-4.

That's when the notorious celebration came, which led to him being reported by on-field umpires Rod Tucker and Bruce Oxenford, third umpire Joel Wilson and fourth umpire Allahudien Paleker.

Referee Andy Pycroft acted on it, deeming Rabada guilty of "using language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batter upon his or her dismissal during an international match".

The sentence came in the form of a one Test ban, along with a fine of 15% of his match fee. The ban is thus set to keep Rabada out of the next Test.

Rabada might have escaped with all the screaming and aggression had he not entered the personal space of the batsman, with him crouching inches away from Root. The one demerit point took his tally to four, which meant that he would have to be banned for either 1 Test, 2 ODIs or 4 T20Is, whichever comes first.

Rabada is thus set to miss the final Test in Johannesburg. However that is not a 100% certain yet. Cricket South Africa is already party to a dialogue with the ICC to defer the ban.

Not a one-off breach

Rabada has been guilty of going overboard with his aggression in the past as well, which included mouthing off Shikhar Dhawan in an ODI, screaming at David Warner and then brushing shoulders with Steve Smith on the then Australian skipper's way back to the pavilion.

The 24-year-old had made a promise after the Smith incident, which he failed to oblige in the heat of the battle.

"It's going to have to stop. I can't keep doing this because I am letting the team down and I am letting myself down. I won't change the way I express myself but I just will get far away from the batter. I don't know what I am thinking, actually. To be honest, I just let it out. I've let myself down and the team down. I have to move forward," Rabada had said in 2018.

All of this backlog, within the past 24 months had led to him being at three demerit points and on the verge of suspension. Unfortunately for Rabada, had this happened just a couple of months later, he might have avoided suspension for the time being as his first breach would have become obsolete.

Still, penalty too harsh?

South Africa's head coach Mark Boucher explained that the aggression spurs Rabada on.
"KG is probably bowls at his best when he's nice and aggressive," Boucher said. "It's trying to find a balance between keeping him nice and aggressive and not boxing him in. But understanding the laws of the game and trying to stay on the good side. It's going to be tough but it's something we will have to address. KG is a team man, so he'll feel very disappointed."

However, the former keeper wasn't very pleased with the laws in place "I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. In our day we'd try push very hard for a win and try make batters feel uncomfortable if we were on top. But the laws have changed. I understand where the ICC want to go with it, but hopefully they find a balance and they don't take the emotion out of the game," Boucher opined.

A 15% reduction in match fee that has been imposed is understandable and that could have been more. But, despite understanding the manner in which the current demerit point system works, one cannot help but a wonder if the suspension is a bit too harsh for an aggressive celebration. Yes, there is the spirit of the game, the Gentleman's game and all that but if there wasn't any swearing, can't we have done with a fine only?

In conclusion, Rabada getting into the personal space of Joe Root is condemnable and the paceman himself will concede it. But, despite understanding the mechanics of the ICC demerit point system, it seems a bit too harsh on the Protea quick.

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