Category Archives: 2017-18 in S Africa

One Last Chance. Again.

This morning’s press reports the decision by the ICC to clear South African bowler Kagiso Rabada to play in the Third Test against Australia in Cape Town tomorrow.

‘It’s the best thing for Test cricket,’ former opening batsman Chris Rogers is quoted as saying. Michael Vaughan and Graeme Smith have saluted the decision. The entire South African camp is ecstatic.

I think it’s a terrible decision for cricket, and brings us one step closer to a nasty physical altercation on the pitch. I am less concerned about whether or not Rabada himself plays, but more troubled by the manner in which the rules were bent for someone important.

Surely you either have rules governing standards of behaviour, or you don’t. And I’m not taking sides here, either, because it’s Rabada. The book should have been thrown equally hard at Warner and de Kock, too, regardless of who said what to whom. Otherwise, chuck the book in the bin.

When I see the Rabada decision, I interpret this as the ICC saying ‘don’t worry about the rules, if you are an important enough player, we let you off (or downgrade the charge) if you break them’. The original charge was that Rabada made ‘inappropriate and deliberate physical contact’ with Steve Smith. Judicial Commissioner Mike Heron is reported as saying “I am not ‘comfortably satisfied’ that Mr Rabada intended to make contact and I therefore find him not guilty of the charge”.

Wow. Rabada didn’t intend to nudge Smith? I must have seen a different piece of footage.

So are there two sets of rules (one for prominent players and another for lesser cricketers), or are the rules themselves a waste of time?

Having just spent a summer coaching a team of 9-year olds, one of the aspects of cricket I am most keen to impart to younger players is respect for each other and respect for the game. We give the opposition team three cheers after the game, and always ensure the players shake hands. This is because it matters.

If young players see Test stars making physical contact with each other and yelling obscenities – and then being forgiven for it – what sort of behaviour should we expect them to exhibit when they walk out to play?

I am not naive. I understand that with so much money at stake in professional sport, it is often difficult to prevent a win-at-all-costs attitude creeping into sport. Cricketers are not robots; emotions will rise and tempers will flare. But without clearly articulated rules and penalties applied, there is no mechanism in place to correct aberrant behaviour. I am also not naive enough to imagine the ICC is immune to pressure to keep the best players on the pitch so as to maximize TV viewer numbers (I don’t envy Commissioner Heron his job).

When incidents occur on the pitch, the first thing the TV commentators say is that the umpires should be given more authority to stamp out this sort of thing. I agree. But when the day’s play is over, it seems, everybody shrugs and says it is part of the game.

Back to Chris Rogers again: “I’m not a huge fan of seeing all the send offs and the nasty stuff that’s going on behind the scenes,” he said. “Cricket’s a sport and it’s there to be enjoyed – you play it hard but you can still play it hard with respect.” I agree with both these points, so I fail to see how Rogers can say this while simultaneously claiming the Rabada decision is the ‘best thing for Test cricket’. To me, the two sentiments are mutually exclusive.

Personally, as one humble cricket fan, I am sick to death of this nonsense. Controversy over sledging – particularly but not exclusively  by Australian players – has been raging for years. Many commentators, most of whom are former players, chuckle that it is ‘good for the game’ and that it’s important ‘not to take a backward step’ and that ‘the public likes to see a bit of fire’.


I don’t.

Cricketers can and should be be vocal in the field, encouraging and congratulating their teammates and keeping their spirits up. I have never understood why abuse is necessary or how it ‘adds to the game’. I just don’t get it.

My greatest concern is that one day an angry batsman gets sledged once too often and swings his bat at an opposition player or a bowler swings his fist and knocks a batsman down. If players believe they can evade penalties, such an incident is inevitable.

Then how will little Johnny or Susie behave when they walk out to play school cricket on Saturday morning?

Parents, cricket fans and commentators will all shake their heads sadly and say, oh dear, why was nothing done to prevent this?