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Banning Kagiso Rabada is not wrong but inappropriate: Cricket can’t be run just by rule books

Banning Rabada sends a wrong signal to bowlers, especially to those who aspire to take wickets to floor the opponents.

Kagiso Rabada & Steve Smith - Michael Vaughan
Kagiso Rabada celebrates Steve Smith’s wicket. (Photo Source: Twitter)

The jubilation for South Africa who squared the Test series against Australia in Port Elizabeth earlier this week was shortlived as Kagiso Rabada, the man who took 11 wickets in the game to demolish the visitors twice, was handed a two-match ban for his offensive behaviour on the field. Rabada faced the law for making an “inappropriate contact” with Australian captain Steve Smith besides shouting in the face of David Warner, the Australian opener who has been found engaged in a boxing bout with the hosts this series. These have been considered Level 2 Code of Conduct offence.

Rabada’s latest offence sees the cumulative charge of eight demerit points that makes him eligible for a two-match ban. The 22-year-old has found himself at odds with the cricket’s governing body on several occasions since February 2017 on grounds of inappropriate behaviour on the field. He was also handed a one-match suspension against England after accumulating four demerit points against Sri Lanka and England. And now, he accumulated four demerit points again after misbehaving in games against India and Australia at home to get a two-match ban.

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Punishing players for same ‘offence’ twice?

The question is: If Rabada had already faced a match ban last year with four demerit points, then why does he face a two-match ban again with eight demerit points? Does that mean four of those eight negative points were taken into consideration twice? The rulebook says that these demerit points remain in play till a period of 24 months so that players do not commit offences deliberately to ensure that they get banned for less important games.

The counter view to this rigid regime is why turn cricket into robotics? No sport in the world can be detached from the element of human emotion and that includes cricket. Technically, Rabada’s punishment makes a lot of sense but the fact is technique itself does not always fit perfectly with the game.

Watching a 22-year-old giving it all for his country is a tribute to cricket; why ruin it?

The ongoing series between South Africa and Australia although hasn’t attracted many viewers to the ground but it has nonetheless produced an intensity which is a much-needed boost for Test cricket’s frail health. The 22-year-old Rabada, who became the ninth most successful bowler for the Proteas in Tests after his 11-wicket haul, did a great job to bring his side back into the series and gave it hope to win a home series against the Australians for the first time since 1969-70. But now, with his ban, that hope for Faf du Plessis’ side fades considerably and Test cricket too stares at losing out on the excitement that the series promised.

Banning Test’s No.1 bowler is a tragedy

At the time when Rabada was handed over the ban, he was also picked as the No.1 bowler in Tests by the ICC – a tragedy which best defines the scenario. Test cricket today requires a superior bowling standard and when a young bowler is giving his all out for the team, banning him is akin to dealing a heavy blow to the game itself. If we can’t allow a young bowler desperate to bring his side back into the contest and giving everything for the cause, then it is better to start cricket for robots.

Do influential countries in world cricket get away easily?

For those who still feel that rules are same for all, the events that unfold on the ground these days do not always suggest so. And this has made the Rabada incident look even more one-sided. Cricket writers and fans in South Africa have alleged that players like Warner or Indian captain Virat Kohli hardly come under the scanner for their on-field aggression, let alone facing bans like Rabada and they suspect that the significance that sides like India and Australia hold in world cricket today is responsible for this.

This angle to the story can’t really be brushed aside. India, Australia and England (not necessarily in that order) are the biggest revenue earners for the international cricket governing body and it is not easy for the latter to punish players from these teams as easily as it can do to the rest. South Africa, on the other hand, doesn’t exercise a clout proportional to its reputation on the ground. It was evident before the 2013-14 tour of India to that country when the South African board was forced to remove its chief executive Haroon Lorgat from having any talks with its Indian counterpart – BCCI – and the latter had its way by means of a curtailed tour. The result went against South Africa but that is how the contemporary cricketing hierarchy has been operating.

Both sides have high stakes in this series: Allow some heated rivalry in moribund Tests

If Rabada is at odds with the rule, so are a few Australian players who certainly did not play this series with a goodwill gesture. One can fully understand how motivated these players are to do well in this series (Australia haven’t lost a Test series in SA for almost five decades now and the stakes are too high for both teams to prevail over the opponents in this series as well).

Moreover, the South Africans were all the more charged up in Port Elizabeth for this series could be the last for a number of senior players at home against Australia and they had to win the second Test to stay alive in the series. Technically, the Australians might not have accumulated as many demerit points as Rabada but picking the South African pacer only on technical grounds to hand over a harsh punishment certainly steals the wind out of the sails of this captivating series.

Rivalries have made cricket a great sport

Allowing rivalries to bloom in a sport helps it more than not. We talk about the bodyline series of the 1930s describing it as “notorious” but we also know very well that such rivalries on the ground have made the history of cricket rich. Sledging has also been an integral part of the sport and there are instances where the humour in the face-offs made people enjoy them.

As a fast bowler, Rabada’s emotional outburst is not something unusual and there is not much conclusive evidence that he did push Smith with his shoulder after dismissing him. The Australian captain’s counter gesture might have been a very well-articulated one for the Aussie camp knew that Rabada would be the main hindrance between them and the series. These instances involve a considerable amount of subjective viewpoints and for a player who is functioning in a pressure-cooker situation, a benefit of doubt is not entirely undeserving.

There is no guarantee that the fire will be extinguished in the series once we see the back of Rabada, given its importance and the trend which has already been set up. So, do we continue to deduct match fees and add on the point of demerits? That will only kill the excitement of the game. Instead, why not warn the respective team leadership to rein in their players if they go too far?

Cricket, after all, is not a body contact game like football where physical conflicts are routine occurrences. So banning performers for showing some healthy aggression which is lacking so much from cricket these days looks a mistreatment of the game itself. It is not without reason that former players like Graeme Smith and Michael Vaughan have spoken in favour of Rabada because as people who have played it out there, they know how much important it is to play the game wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, the game today is controlled more by the officials and bureaucrats who find it to be another 9-5 business to be run with all kind of legal provisions.

Banning Rabada sends a wrong signal to bowlers, especially to those who aspire to take wickets to floor the opponents and not just check runs to somehow get the job done as the trend is in the limited-over formats. The rule-keepers need to see things more through a prism of compassion towards the players if they want to keep the game an interesting one in the days to come. By denying top talents to play for acts that are by no means grave, the bureaucrats are snuffing life out of the beautiful sport called cricket.

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