As South Africa celebrated the high of a Test win against Australia to level the series at Port Elizabeth on Monday, the ICC delivered a jolt. Pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada was handed a two-Test suspension for inappropriate conduct by the ICC hours after victory, effectively ruling him out of the remainder of the series.
The warning signs were there for Rabada before the start of the Test.
The 22-year-old pacer, exceptionally talented as he is, has a history of disciplinary issues. Since making his Test debut in 2015, the fast-bowler’s indiscretions have landed him in trouble.
The South African has now been charged five times by the ICC for various offences following his twin run-ins in the Port Elizabeth Test. His first breach came after an altercation with Sri Lanka’s Niroshan Dickwella during an ODI at Cape Town last year.
Both players were docked 50 per cent of their match fees along with three ICC demerit points for their conduct. Four demerit points equals a one-Test or two ODIs/T20s, whichever comes first.
Hence, when South Africa toured England three months later, the pacer was walking a tight-rope disciplinary wise. During the second Test at Trent Bridge, he gave Ben Stokes an expletive laden send-off after dismissing him. Rabada was subsequently given a demerit point for his behaviour, resulting in a one-Test suspension.
The pace did not learn his lesson. He repeated the same offence, this time against India’s Shikhar Dhawan in an ODI series last month. Another demerit point followed and meant that the youngster came into the Australia series with five of them to his name, putting him on the verge of a two-Test suspension.
The David Warner-Quinton de Kock shenanigans left a sour taste in the mouths of both camps and emotions were high. Before the start of the second Test, Proteas veteran Dale Steyn inferred that Rabada had been bowling on a ‘leash’ due to his disciplinary issues and that it was unfair as the Aussies were supposedly going about their business as usual.
It seems the youngster took that call to heart. Even as he bowled his heart out in the second Test, Rabada’s match-winning efforts were overshadowed by two code of conduct violations. The first for making contact with Steve Smith’s shoulder in the first innings after trapping him lbw and the second for giving Warner one of his now infamous sendoffs.
Might seem like it is hard on Rabada, especially when he is in the form of his life, but when there is a system, you have to play within it.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) March 12, 2018
The youngster knew he had indeed crossed the line when he appeared for the post-match press conference.
“I’ve let myself and the team down,” he said.
“But I have to move forward and I have to see, if I do get banned, then I have to see it as a big learning curve and not repeat the same mistake, because I’ve repeated the same mistake in the eyes of the umpires. I’m not happy about it,” he added.
Hours later, as feared, he was suspended. After the match, there has been intense debate among current and former players on whether such punishments are stifling a format which is already struggling to get eyeballs.
But whichever way you look at it, it is Rabada’s fault that he landed in that situation. While aggression remains one of the biggest weapons of most fast bowlers, it can always be channelled in a way which does not bring about one’s own downfall. Rabada only has to look at how Steyn went about his business without ever curbing his aggression.
What is infuriating about the youngster’s troubles is the fact he has been down this road before. Repeating the same offence three times in short span is a sign of indifference and recklessness.
He might have learnt his lesson for now but it has come at a huge cost to his side. As bowler who seems destined to end up as one of the greats of the game, Rabada needs to cut out the ‘celebrations’ for now.
Two years ago Rishabh Pant was one of the hottest properties in Indian cricket. His heroics in the ICC U19 World Cup for the Indian colts saw IPL outfit Delhi Daredevils fork out a whopping sum of Rupees 19 million (Dh108,000) for the young wicketkeeper-batsman during 2016.
The southpaw’s ability to clear the fence regularly with gutso and penchant is what has brought him many admirers in the Indian cricket community.
After a terrific domestic season with the bat during 2016-17 where he scored a triple-hundred against Maharashtra in the Ranji trophy and a 48-ball ton against Jharkhand, Pant was handed his maiden India cap in a T20I against England at Bengaluru.
He did not get much of a chance to showcase his ability in that match, getting to face only three deliveries for an unbeaten knock of five runs. He was however picked again for the T20s when India toured the West Indies in July last year and played a sole match in Kingston.
On that day, Pant managed to score a 35-ball 38, a far cry from the explosive tag he carried with him. It was simply a case of him trying too hard to smash every ball out of the ground. That desperation perhaps, is a by-product of his reputation of being a big and clean hitter of the ball.
It is almost as if Pant has to justify that tag whenever he puts on the Blues of India. Following the T20I against the West Indies, the Delhi-based youngster did not get any more games for the national side until the ongoing Nidahas T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka.
There too, in the opening match against the hosts, Pant flattered to deceive. With Shikhar Dhawan giving India a solid platform to launch off from in the death overs, the 20-year-old struggled to find a clean connection as he looked to launch each and every ball out of the ground.
His struggles at one end forced Dhawan to up the ante himself and the opener paid the price with his wicket. Pant on the other hand, scored a run-a-ball 23 despite collecting a six and a boundary as India lost their way a little towards the death overs.
With MS Dhoni all but confirmed to be India’s wicket-keeping option in the 2019 ICC World Cup, there is no real rush for Pant to force himself into contention. His time will come, for he has been clearly earmarked by the board as one for the future.
That is why he is being tried out in the odd T20 match here and there, so that come 2019, he is ready to take over the mantle from the veteran stalwart.
The talent is clearly there, as evidenced by his 32-ball hundred against Himachal Pradesh in January, the second-fastest T20 ton in history and the fastest by an Indian.
The question for Pant therefore is, why the hurry? Maybe it is time the youngster stopped putting so much pressure on himself to perform and let his natural talent do the talking.
His time with the Indian senior team will come. For now, he needs to start enjoying the game and the boundaries will flow again.
India’s tour of South Africa was the first big test for Virat Kohli’s men as they looked to prove their overseas credentials in 2018. After sweeping aside all that came before them at home on their way to the top of the Test rankings, the focus shifted to India’s first major overseas trip before tours of England and Australia later in the year.
They got off to a poor start with defeat in the first Test in Cape Town. When another defeat in Centurion followed that ended all hopes of a series win, the familiar feeling of doom and gloom – as has been the case in many previous overseas tours – surfaced.
Kohli’s selection policies came under fire as the exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane in favour of Rohit Sharma stuck out like a sore thumb. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar was dropped for the second Test, it seemed that Kohli had well and truly lost the plot.
Then came the victory in the final Test on a menacing track at the Wanderers and things started to look up again. Rahane and Bhuvneshwar both played important hands in that win, leading to even more questions about the previous selection policy.
With the tour now over after the completion of the ODIs and T20I series which India won, one can understand importance of the final Test win. The most impressive part of India’s performance – eight wins and four defeats overall – was the manner in which they were attained. Right from the very first ODI, India played a fearless and ruthless brand of cricket, a brand you would associate with the Australian sides of the early 2000s.
A maiden 50-over series win in South Africa was secured – by a margin of 5-1 – followed by a 2-1 triumph in the T20I series. India looked at home and it was the hosts who looked more like a touring side struggling to keep up.
The biggest factor that made India competitive, both in the Tests and the limited-overs clashes, was a world-class bowling unit, something the side has lacked for long.
Pacers were impressive in the red-ball format, while wrist-spinners grabbed the headlines in the white-ball matches. It was refreshing to see the Indians dismiss South Africa six times in as many innings in the Tests, a feat that deserves special praise.
With Virat Kohli at the peak of his powers and a bowling unit capable of thriving in almost any condition, India will fancy their chances of reaching greater heights when they travel to England and Australia later this year.