Freed Rabada: Viva, sanity returns!

Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Aaaaahhhh … call that an unashamedly pleasurable sigh, like that of a Labrador settling at fireside on a chilly night.

Enough of the neuroses, the pettiness, the moral high-horse pontificating and the inconsistency in both definition and sanction of what constitutes apt behavioural conduct (and just as vexingly what doesn’t) in cricket.

Now let’s get a game on again, shall we?

Kagiso Rabada winning his appeal against suspension from the remainder of the Test series between South Africa and Australia is fabulous news for the vast majority of enthusiasts, and quite probably not just Proteas-partial ones, I fancy.

South Africa v Australia is - and has pretty much always been - proper, strength versus strength combat in the most threatened form of the game, and for that healthy event you also want, as key ingredient, the very best of the bilateral stars slugging it out against each other.

Rabada is indisputably one of those … a situation only confirmed by his return after the Port Elizabeth second Test (the series is tantalisingly locked at 1-1) to top spot on the ICC bowler rankings, leapfrogging England’s James Anderson.

He bagged 11 wickets at St George’s Park - the fourth time the mere 22-year-old has earned 10 scalps or more in a Test - but was then collared by officialdom (in the form of match referee Jeff Crowe) over his faint contact with the shoulder of Aussie captain Steve Smith after dismissing him.

Watch the replay over and over: I still swear it is extremely tenuous to suggest Rabada conclusively orchestrated the brush … something perhaps only clouded further by Smith indisputably pointing out the mundane “flashpoint” to an umpire, which raises a wee moral question all of its own.

But it also became the incident that pushed Rabada - perceived, again subjectively, as a repeat offender in too-aggressive wicket celebrations - over the disciplinary edge, leading to his side-lining from the Newlands and Wanderers home straight in the series.

The very fact that the gifted young paceman has got off the hook on appeal - ICC code of conduct appeal commissioner Michael Heron QC said he was not “comfortably satisfied” Rabada intended the contact - hopefully means that the game’s governing body will be cajoled into its own soul-searching on disciplinary stipulations and the administering of censure.

In shorter lingo, I hope there is a greater emphasis in future on not making issues out of what a great many observers clearly believe are really non-issues, a situation that also raises inevitable cries of double-standards and erraticism in application, plus damaging, sideshow deflection from the game of cricket itself.

All that said, clearly Rabada is still walking a tightrope in terms of ICC correct-conduct procedure as it stands, and it will be disappointing and irresponsible as a result if, in the Newlands Test beginning on Thursday, he tests the boundaries all over again.

Like it or not, there will be a few commissars watching him hawkishly for any hint of emotion-charged send-off or the like, and he must be firmly reminded by his captain Faf du Plessis and others that any anger, or adrenaline-driven sense of vindication, is best channelled into the more physically-based exertions that accompany his bowling.

The Bullring Test at month’s end will be series-decisive, regardless of what happens in the results column at Newlands, so his onward involvement there is essential.

But at least the organisers of the Cape Town clash - traditionally the best place in the country for Test ground attendance - can hurriedly reinstate Kagiso Rabada as a primary poster figure in the lead-up hype.

It barely needs reminding that he is in red-hot form, and it should also be a tantalising thought to Proteas fans that, in three prior personal Tests at the postcard-perfect venue, he has fared better statistically than his already stellar overall figures.

Rabada sports 19 wickets from that trio of Test matches (England, Sri Lanka, India) at an average of 21.00, which is just inside his career average of 21.45.

After two Tests in this series, it is probably as difficult to suggest a “favourite” for the overall spoils as it was before the combat broke out.

But Rabada will make an indescribable difference to SA’s quest to go an unassailable 2-1 up over the next few days.

Any mischievous, parochial thoughts apart, I strongly feel it is right and just that he is there.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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