Rabada should come out of the two-Test suspension as a much more shrewder person. © AFP
It is very easy, in the light of what has happened with Kagiso Rabada, to say that the ICC is wrong and that he should be allowed to play in a series that is producing some outstanding cricket. If emotion were to rule decision making, we might get some kind decisions but many that would set a precedent difficult to replicate.
In the precarious health that Test cricket is in, it needs all the marquee series it can get. India versus South Africa was a fabulous exhibition and this series against Australia is as good. This is tough, and therefore, enthralling cricket. This is what draws all of us to this format and puts it at the pinnacle of sport. And one of the key players in this fascinating encounter is Rabada who is already among the best in the world but, happily, getting better. To take Rabada out of this series is to take the lead guitarist out of the rock band. The show will go on but it won’t quite be the same.
But sport, like society that is so mirrored, has laws for a reason. We may disagree with the laws, we might protest, we might rail against them but justice is handed down depending on whether or not the laws, as they stand, are infringed. And the laws in cricket are the same for everybody. If they are unjust, they are unjust to all and if you violate them, you really have little to argue with. There have been suggestions that some teams get away with some transgressions and some teams don’t. Australia have often been mentioned in this regard as indeed have India. But referees and umpires, whose job it is to interpret the law, come from everywhere.
The moment you start playing the victim, reason goes out. South Africa probably believe at the moment that they have been wronged but some years ago on a tour there when some Indians were pulled up, there were suggestions that South Africa were being favoured. I hear voices at home saying India is discriminated against and yet, in recent years, quite the opposite view is held in other parts of the world. Since the dawn of civilisation, people have looked at the world through their own prism. It is not the only prism in the world.
Going into this Test match, Rabada was on the edge. The opposing captain had said his team might try to provoke him, which might be clever tactics but not the most distinguished, and so Rabada had to be alert and clever. Yes, he is a young man with passion. Yes, he puts everything into his sport and a big wicket is cause for great celebration. But the lens was focussed on him and he had to be careful. He can argue, and he could well be telling the truth, that he didn’t make contact with Smith intentionally, but people have to go by what they see.
Will such judgements sanitise our game and leave it devoid of all emotion? Will the curry go bland? Banish the thought, it will never happen in sport. Red cards have been around for eternity in football (I am among those in favour of having yellow and red cards in cricket too) but that hasn’t prevented hard tackles and rampant gamesmanship. The demerit points were introduced because cricket was sliding towards danger and if players cannot adhere to a self-imposed code of conduct, you have to force one upon the game. Sledging, for example, is a blot on our game especially when it descends into abuse. Too many in our sport pardon it. If anything, we need to go harder at it.
How much sledging should be allowed, and what kind, is a matter of much amusement to me. Each team has its own definition and the “line” that one mustn’t cross is one of convenience not of morality. Australia try to own the high ground on this and while I have long been an admirer of the way they play cricket, I am afraid this is very easy to see through. What one culture deems acceptable, might be revolting to another and so, nobody, can either own the line or indeed demand that everyone else adhere to one they have drawn. Australia have a line that they believe in and is convenient to them but the South African line or the Indian line can be very different and Australia might be guilty of infringing it as often as they believe others infringe theirs.
And so, the ICC must have its own system of demerit points and when the world’s administrators, or the Cricket Committee meet next, that system can be debated. But at the moment it is there, as is ball-tracking and fake fielding, and so you have no choice but to adhere to it.
Rabada will take many more wickets and he will, assuming hopefully that his career progresses as it seems it will, become one of the jewels of our sport. And he might well come out of this suspension a shrewder person.