Rabada the absent elephant in Elgar’s room

“Having Rabada in the side is massive for us. It’s massive for the game. It’s massive for the format.” – Dean Elgar

TMG Digital


KAGISO Rabada’s appeal hearing had dragged on for more than four hours when Dean Elgar sat down to talk to the press at Newlands on Monday.

Elgar had come to discuss the finer points of a series poised at 1-1 after South Africa’s rousing fightback to win the second test at St George’s Park by six wickets — a series that will resume in Cape Town on Thursday.

But Rabada’s hearing was uppermost. Except for Elgar.

“As players who don’t have influence overs what has happened in the hearing or what could happen,” he said. “But it would be nice to put it behind us.

“There’s been so much noise and I think people have actually forgotten that there’s such a great series happening between two extremely strong and competitive teams.

“Whether ‘KG’ [Rabada] is playing in the third test or not, it’s out of our hands.”

Rabada is challenging the three demerit points he earned — and with them a two-match ban for an accumulation of eight points — for making contact with Steve Smith’s shoulder during the second test.

It was one white-hot moment in an intense contest but it’s taking hours of expensive hot air to parse the rights from the wrongs.

That’s hardly surprising considering heavyweight lawyers like Dali Mpofu — Rabada’s representative — are involved.

The case is being heard, with the help of video, by Michael Heron, queen’s counsel and former New Zealand solicitor general.

Although Elgar seemed to take a dim view of the fuss around Rabada’s situation, he had praise for the fast bowler.

“Having him in the side is massive for us. It’s massive for the game. It’s massive for the format. Because ‘KG’ is an extremely special cricketer.”

He is. But best ‘KG’ and everybody else learns to stay on the right side of the law in a series in which Rabada is the fifth player to be punished by match referee Jeff Crowe. And that in just more than eight days of cricket.

“It’s been a hectic last two weeks with everything that’s been happening behind the scenes, not even the actual cricket-related stuff which people are missing,” Elgar said.

But what’s happened behind the scenes has been sparked by events on the field, as Elgar tacitly acknowledged.

“There’s been a lot of niggle. It comes from both sides.

“But it’s what you expect when you’re playing against quality opposition. You expect that there’s going to be some niggle and a bit of words.

“The intensity should be there, that’s what makes this format very exciting.

“I’ve been on the receiving end but I’ve also given it out, in all the right measurements.”

Elgar’s hopes to “put it behind us” are likely to fall on deaf Australian ears.

For that he can thank Vernon Philander. Or whoever it was who, Philander claims, hacked his twitter account to post: “Haven’t really seen the footage of this incident but by the looks of this … Steve Smith gave ‘KG’ the shoulder.

“He could have avoided any contact but to me he is just as guilty. Trying some football skills to get a penalty? Pity he didn’t dive to top it off.”

That’s more than enough to keep the enmity between the teams burning brightly.

“If our banter is anything like it has gone this series I’m sure it will be brought up at some stage to get under someone’s nerves,” Cameron Bancroft said on Monday.

“That’s boys being boys playing cricket — who can hurt someone’s feelings the most?

“We saw the tweet. It was quite popular for a while. I don’t know if he wrote it or if his account was hacked or not.

“That’s his opinion, isn’t it, and he’s got to deal with the consequences of that now, not us.”

Elgar had no doubt the streetwise Philander knew what was coming his way, fairly or not.

“I think he’ll take it in his stride, like ‘Vern’ does. He’s quite a relaxed human being, but on the field he’s as competitive as anyone else.

“He’s got a set of skills that helps us out as a team and knowing Vernon I’m sure he’ll take it in his stride.

“I’m sure he’s going to expect that they’re going to come out and say something to him on the field.”

More than an hour after Elgar spoke, Rabada and the expensive lawyers wrapped things up.

They have until Wednesday to reveal what all that talk — almost six hours worth — has achieved.


Rabada appeal puts focus on conduct code

TMG Digital


A shoulder charge? A brushing of shirts? An extraordinary reaction to an ordinary event? A deserved comeuppance for a repeat offender? A cynical manipulation of the rules?

The moment Kagiso Rabada’s shoulder bumped Steve Smith’s at St George’s Park on March 9 has put the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) disciplinary system under focus.

That focus will sharpen on Monday, when Rabada’s appeal against his two-match ban is heard.

Michael Herron, a prominent New Zealand queen’s counsel, will hear the case and then have 48 hours to deliver his decision.

Dali Mpofu, the high profile advocate who in 1999 had Makhaya Ntini’s conviction for rape overturned on appeal, will represent Rabada.

Should the fast bowler prevail he will be free to play in South Africa’s last two tests against Australia.

Should his ban be upheld he will be a spectator in a series he played a major role in keeping competitive by taking 11/150 in Port Elizabeth to help South Africa level matters at 1-1.

What with the third test at Newlands starting on Thursday, the clock is ticking.

The prevailing South African narrative on the saga has painted Rabada as the victim of both the ICC’s demerit system and of the Australians’ knowledge of how to play that system.

But Rabada, test cricket’s No. 1-ranked bowler and also it’s most demerited player, is his own worst enemy.

He has had five dealings with match referees in 13 months, one of which resulted in a one-match ban.

He had five demerit points hanging over his head going into the St George’s Park test.

Three more points, Rabada and everyone else knew, would result in a suspension.

As in other matters of law, ignorance was no defence.

“Match referees meet with team leaders at the start of each series, and use this opportunity to talk about any trends in player behavior and the way the code is to be applied, and the teams are advised where the players in an upcoming series stand with respect to their tally of demerit points,” an ICC spokesperson said.

Both the South Africans and the Australians have admitted they had or would consider trying to provoke players who are closer to a ban from acting in a way that would attract more demerit points.

Does the ICC accept that this practice, akin to footballers diving to try and have opponents carded, is a problem?

“There have been comments made about provoking players with demerit point tallies but after 18 months of this new system we have seen few, if any, examples of it actually happening.

“In 854 days of international cricket in 2017 we saw just six code of conduct offences level two and above. The majority of cricket takes place without incident.”

An example may have been Mitchell Marsh swearing at Rabada after the latter had dismissed the former in the second innings at St George’s Park — rare for departing batsmen.

But the system worked: that earned Marsh a fine and a demerit point.

Despite that South Africans have been vocal in their support of Rabada, with former Springbok lock Bakkies Botha climbing in boots and all.

“Steven Smith gets acquainted with KG’s replacement,” ran the headline across a photograph of Botha, in cricket whites, hulking over Smith in a post on Botha’s twitter account on Friday.

“I wanna lend a hand,” the tweet said. “I wanna be there for KG. Send me!”

Late on Wednesday night Vernon Philander appeared to tweet, “Haven’t really seen the footage of this incident but by the looks of this … Steve Smith gave ‘KG’ the shoulder.

“He could have avoided any contact but to me he is just as guilty. Trying some football skills to get a penalty? Pity he didn’t dive to top it off.”

By Thursday morning Philander had disowned, and deleted, the tweet: “Someone posted a nice little article on my behalf. Sorry for all the drama or entertainment caused.”

Talk of spectator boycotts at Newlands and the Wanderers, where the fourth test starts on March 30, if Rabada remains banned is circulating.

But it seems Rabada himself has had a change of mind on how guilty he is, which will strike observers as odd considering he is fighting match referee Jeff Crowe’s decision to lump him with a fine and three demerit points.

“It’s debatable,” Rabada said according to reports published on Friday when he was asked whether he had been harshly dealt with. “Some people think so, some people don’t.

“I take responsibility for what happened. On the video it looks like I got into the guy’s space, so I shouldn’t have done that. I’ll say 50/50, it’s my fault. I didn’t feel anything in the moment.”

Not that anybody’s opinion on the issue matters, and that goes for Rabada as much as it does for the expensive lawyers involved.

The fact is the code of conduct is not going to change because players who fall foul of it, and their supporters, are unhappy about being punished.

What will have to change is player behaviour, especially that of repeat offenders like Rabada.

Play with passion, but also with respect

Does cricket have a disciplinary problem, or does discipline have a problem with cricket?

Sunday Times


RESPECT. The world could do with a lot more of the stuff — between countries and cultures, between races, between men, women and children, and between cricketers.

Respect is what keeps confrontational sports like cricket civilised. Most of the time. When it is lost in a moment of madness, the void is quickly seen, heard and felt.

Like it has been too often on Australia’s tour of South Africa, what with five players falling foul of the code of conduct in just more than eight days of play.

As much as it’s up to captains, match officials and the International Cricket Council (ICC) to maintain the balance between passion and petulance, the first arbiter in this tussle should also be the last: the individual.

“You want to play the game hard but there’s got to be respect,” Graeme Smith said. “A lot’s been made of this ‘line’, but to make anything personal is not on. I’ve always really been against that.

“But it is competitive sport and there are high emotions and heated moments, so things are going to happen.

“You also don’t want to take that out of the game. It needs to be managed and it must be kept respectful, but people want to see that — the passion and the want to win and the big competition.

“When ‘KG’ [Kagiso Rabada] was bowling at [David] Warner [in the second innings at St George’s Park], that was magnificent to watch and you don’t want to lose that fire in a series. It’s a fine line to manage.

“I get really frustrated with the inconsistencies of the management of these things. I think too much is being managed from [ICC headquarters in] Dubai, and that needs to be reassessed.

“To appeal [a verdict] generally means you get a harsher punishment, so in some ways they’re not allowing people to state their case.

“I think there are people sitting in Dubai, who are long way from the context of the situation, and they maybe need to put more trust in the people they appoint to do their jobs.”

So does cricket have a disciplinary problem, or does discipline have a problem with cricket?

Or is the way the ICC wants to enforce its demerit system confusing players and inflaming tensions between teams?

“The players know all about the code of conduct because it has been in place for more than 10 years and this is the framework in which they ply their trade,” an ICC spokesperson said.

“Many countries have an almost identical list of offences in their code of conduct for domestic competitions. “Professional players generally operate under the framework of the same behavioural offences in whichever competition they play.

“When the demerit points system was introduced [in September 2016] there was no change to the offences in the code of conduct and no change to the sanctions for each individual offence, so what players can and can’t do on the field remains as it has done for a number of years.

“The demerit points just formalised the way in which a breach was recorded against a player, and laid out the consequences if the player repeatedly breached the code.”

That brings us to Rabada, who will put his case for an appeal against his two-test ban to ICC judicial commissioner Michael Heron tomorrow.

Rabada’s ban was enforced when he reached eight demerit points after being punished for the fifth time in 13 months.

If Rabada’s appeal is successful, he will play in the third test at Newlands on Thursday. If he isn’t, he won’t.

“There are plenty of players who play the game with passion who don’t come close to breaching the code,” the ICC spokesperson said.

“Passion is part of the game, indiscipline and disrespecting your opponents is not.

“Most of the code of conduct is about respect — respect for your own team, your opponents, the match officials and the game.

“That respect does not equate to a lack of passion.”

Leading Edge: Men are ruining a game played with integrity by women

Why can’t men play cricket without resorting to neanderthal conduct?

Sunday Times


IF you didn’t know that men — as opposed to women, boys, girls or meerkats — are contesting the test series between South Africa and Australia, you should by now.

“It’s a lot of men playing out there and you’re allowed to celebrate sometimes,” Vernon Philander said during the St George’s Park test. “Sometimes there’s a fine line about celebrating too hard.

“It’s a bunch of men playing this game. It would be a totally different ballgame if it was a bunch of schoolboys. We tend to take things personally.”

Other players have also reached for the M-word in response to questions about the poor standards of player behaviour in the series.

Among them Faf du Plessis, who when asked what all this manliness was about joked, albeit not snidely: “We’re men and we play the game.”

Are these explanations for why men can’t seem to play a game of cricket without resorting to neanderthal conduct?

Or are they excuses — we’re men; we know not what we do?

What they should be is apologies, but they sound much more not sorry than sorry.

There’s a “boys will be boys” dismissiveness about how players from both sides have tried to rationalise the rampant and puerile swearing, shocking misogyny and, in one case, what would in a court of law be called assault the series has had to endure.

Men are not admitting their limitations when they resort to stating their gender in answer to concerns over the way they have, or haven’t, done something. Instead, they are proclaiming their superiority.

We’re men, dammit. That’s why.

There’s something like pride in the fact that, even in 2018 and despite everything that namby-pamby International Cricket Council tries to throw at them, men are still in touch with their primal selves enough to be able to summon their basest behaviour at the flick of an emotional switch.

And no switch is as easily flicked as the mere mention of a woman who is close to them, particularly by an adversary.

Take it from a man, “Your mother sleeps with your father,” would start an all-out brawl if it was uttered on the dressingroom stairs.

This poisonous perversion has permeated the boundary, beyond which lurk pathetic husks of humans wearing Sonny Bill Williams masks and thinking they’re funny.

None of this is, of course, limited to cricket. The world has been messed up by men for centuries, and they have tended to blame women for their failures or at least use them as justification for getting things badly wrong.

Hence, David Warner could not control his anger when his wife was apparently insulted by Quinton de Kock, who had himself been provoked by alleged comments about his wife and mother.

Of course, part of Warner’s defence for behaving as he did was that he was standing up for women.

Those damn women. Always causing problems in men’s lives. Once they were burned at the stake as witches. Now they are torched on social media.

It is not manly to stalk a cricket ground like some caveman sniffing the air for the scent of prey, and to react as if you have been attacked at a mention of what you decide is the wrong thing to say. It is, instead, evidence that evolution hasn’t made much progress.

It is also what does not happen when women play cricket. There is aggression aplenty in women’s cricket — watch Marizanne Kapp bowl and you will be in no doubt about that — and the sledging can be rougher than a goat’s knee. But there is also fine skill and wonderful competitiveness.

Women play cricket. Men don’t so much play cricket as try to punish it for being a game worth playing: how dare cricket think it can put an XI in front of us who think they are better than us?

Men are ruining a game that is played with more integrity by women. There are indeed a lot of men playing out there. Too many.

Kiwi rugby man to hear Rabada’s appeal

TMG Digital


SOUTH Africans hoping to see Kagiso Rabada left fly in the third test against Australia at Newlands next week will be heartened to learn that the person who will decide his fate is a rugby man from New Zealand.

What’s a nudge on Steve Smith’s shoulder — which took Rabada to eight demerit points and saw him banned for the last two tests of the series — compared to an All Black flank leaving a trail of felled opponents on his way to the tryline?

But Michael Heron, the queens counsel who the International Cricket Council confirmed on Friday as the judicial commissioner for Rabada’s appeal hearing on Monday, won’t see things that way.

Heron is no pushover. On February 27, in his role as a SANZAAR judicial commissioner, he slapped Reds lock Lukhan Tui with a three-week ban for a spear tackle on Rebels scrumhalf Will Genia.

Heron, a former New Zealand solicitor general, is also a judicial commissioner for New Zealand Rugby, and he conducted the official review into the All Blacks’ performance at the 2007 World Cup.

“I’ve always loved rugby and cricket … but I’m a terrible player,” he said in an interview with LawFuel New Zealand in December.

Heron will have 48 hours after the hearing, which will be conducted via videoconference, to make his decision.

So Rabada will know his lot by Wednesday — the day before hostilities are set to resume in one of the most intense test series in decades, which is level at 1-1 with two matches to play.

Why it’s a good thing that Ngidi is not Rabada

“I’m a lot more reserved as a person, so I can never say I want to want to be ‘KG’ Rabada.” – Lungi Ngidi

TMG Digital


IF you haven’t already noticed, Lungi Ngidi is huge. And as he sat talking to the press after South Africa’s six-wicket win over Australia at St George’s Park on Monday it was obvious that he is, physically, at least, more than big enough to step into Kagiso Rabada’s boots.

Mentally, too, Rabada could learn from his younger, less experienced colleague.

“You can be aggressive within your actions, with what you say, or — in general, for me — the areas you bowl,” Ngidi said.

“Putting a batsman under pressure, having a presence, letting him know that you’re there. Those are the things I lean towards as a cricketer.

“I don’t really have to say much. I feel just a look may be good enough.

“Those are the kinds of things I say are aggression.”

Would that Ngidi’s way of doing things takes root between Rabada’s ears.

Rabada took 11/150 at St George’s Park to spur South Africa to their series-levelling victory, and he regained the No. 1 bowling ranking on Tuesday.

At 22 he is the youngest bowler to have claimed four 10-wicket hauls in test cricket — he equalled Waqar Younis’ record in Port Elizabeth — and he has a wonderful future ahead of him.

But Rabada has also become the first player to be banned for two games since the demerit system became operational in September 2016.

He has racked up nine demerit points in five visits to the match referee’s office in the past 13 months. No player has been in trouble more.

Australia captain Steve Smith and coach Darren Lehmann have admitted noticing Rabada was on five points before the PE match and wondering whether they could nudge him towards the eight that would result in a suspension.

Mission accomplished, and more — Rabada was docked four points for two offences.

He is considering appealling the charge that saw him slapped with three of those points, his shoulder contact with Steve Smith on Friday.

But, as things stand, Rabada is out of the Newlands test on March 22 and the series finale at the Wanderers eight days later.

What with Rabada hogging the spotlight at St George’s Park there wasn’t a lot left for the rest to do. But Ngidi’s five wickets in the match made him South Africa’s next most successful bowler.

And with Dale Steyn unlikely to play for the Titans against the Cobras in Paarl on Thursday — and thus be unable to prove his fitness following a heel injury in January — South Africa have a vacancy for someone to fill the Rabada-sized hole in their attack.

Morne Morkel, who was left out in PE, will surely return, and with him will come the spiking bounce and relentless accuracy that have made him the least pleasant bowler batsmen have to face.

But Ngidi, who has easily earned another crack in Cape Town, is a more like-for-like replacement for what Rabada brings: thundering pace, a touch of swing and plenty of presence.

He is not, after only three tests, the superstar Rabada has become in 28 games. But he is also not the rock star Rabada has become, and in good ways.

“He’s a great bowler to get information from and to learn from,” Ngidi said of Rabada.

“But I am a different person. I’m a lot more reserved as a person, so I can never say I want to want to be ‘KG’ Rabada.

“I’ve got my own abilities, my own skills and traits.”

Another aspect of the difference between Rabada and Ngidi can be gleaned from the video of David Warner screaming at Quinton de Kock on a staircase during the first test at Kingsmead.

Rabada emerges from the dressingroom with chest puffed and eyes blazing, clearly ready for a fight.

Ngidi stands calmly on the stairs holding a towel as the milieu lurches past him.

“When I came out of the changeroom I heard a lot of swearing and shouting, and I didn’t know where it was coming from,” Ngidi said.

“I was just standing there and all the players were coming up, and I didn’t know what was going on until I actually saw Warner shouting and screaming.

“So I was confused — what’s going on? Eventually, after everyone was upstairs, then I realised what was going on.

“I was the passive one in that situation.”

Keep it that way, big fella, and you’ll be just fine.

Rabada to appeal ban

TMG Digital


THE Kagiso Rabada saga is set do drag on following the fast bowler’s decision to appeal his two-test ban.

But whether he will be able to play in the third test against Australia at Newlands, which starts next Thursday, remains in question.

“ICC confirms that Kagiso Rabada has appealed against the level two breach following the incident with Steve Smith during the Port Elizabeth test,” the International Cricket Council (ICC) said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“ICC will now appoint a judicial commissioner at the earliest opportunity and hearing details will be confirmed in due course.”

The ICC have 48 hours to appoint a judicial commissioner, who will have seven days to convene a hearing.

If that happens quickly and Rabada is cleared he will, of course, be free to play at Newlands.

But if the process runs its full course South Africa will have to do without the bowler who took 11/150 in the second test at St George’s Park to level the series with two matches to play.

That said, there is a slim chance Rabada might get the green light for Cape Town even if a decision has yet to be reached.

“Kagiso remains suspended unless the appointed judicial commissioner finds enough reason or argument to allow him to play in the third test,” a South Africa team spokesperson said after the appeal was confirmed.

Rabada’s lawyers have yet to be named.

There is risk in Rabada choosing to appeal. Should he lose he could be lumped with an even heavier sentence.

Rabada is in trouble with the suits for the shoulder contact he made with Smith after dismissing the Australia captain on Friday.

That earned him three demerit points, which, added to the five he took into the match, added up to the eight he need to trigger the ban.

For good measure he was docked another point for his verbal send-off of David Warner on Sunday.

Those are only the latest examples of the poor discipline on the field that has led to Rabada sanctioned five times in 13 months to become the first player to suffer a two-match ban since the demerit system came into effect in September 2016.

And things could get worse. If Rabada gets to a dozen points he will be banned for at least three tests.

Injury was added to insult the day after Rabada was banned, when he rose to No. 1 in the test bowling rankings.