As You Think So You Become
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Cricket is no longer the sport Mark Boucher used to play, but as South Africa's coach he has inherited the challenges of the modern game. And at the top of that list is a problem bursting with talent and skill - but who explodes with poorly directed aggression too often for his own good and for the good of his team.
Kagiso Rabada will miss the series-deciding fourth Test at the Wanderers next week while he serves a ban for his behaviour towards Joe Root. After clean-bowling the England captain with the best ball delivered on the first day of the third Test at St George's Park on Thursday, Rabada celebrated loudly and passionately within millimetres of the dismissed batter. That earned him a level one conviction for "using language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batter upon his or her dismissal during an international match". He did not contest the charge. His sentence of a fine of 15% of his match fee and one demerit point meant he had piled up four points for - which prompted the one-match ban.
The current version of the code of conduct came into operation in September 2016, more than four years after Boucher had retired. He played 147 Tests as a wicketkeeper-batter between October 1997 and November 2012, and was recognised as one of the most aggressively competitive players in the world game.
"In our day we didn't have to deal with this stuff because we could say pretty much what we wanted and get away with it," Boucher said after stumps on Friday. "So it is a learning curve for me with all these new rules and regulations that have come in. I heard about it this morning. I've just come into the system and I wasn't aware of the demerit points; that whole system and how it quite works. So to hear [Rabada is] going to be banned for the next Test is a massive blow to us. He's a world class performer, especially at the Wanderers, where I think he'd be very effective."
Boucher has been South Africa's coach since December 14, or long after Rabada racked up his first five sentences for bad conduct in his dealings with batters. How will he fix the problem? "'KG' probably bowls at his best when he's nice and aggressive," Boucher said. "It's trying to find a balance between keeping him nice and aggressive and not boxing him in. But understanding the laws of the game and trying to stay on the good side. It's going to be tough but it's something we will have to address. 'KG's a team man, so he'll feel very disappointed."
Did Boucher apportion more blame to the code's sometimes overweeningly precious provisions for player behaviour, or to Rabada himself? "Both. Not talking with a coach's cap on, you don't want to take all the aggression out of the game of cricket. You've got two countries playing hard cricket against each other in a heated situation. Guys are trying really hard. Sometimes their emotions overflow. Maybe I'm a little bit disappointed in the rule and regulations. But if you know the rules and regulations then you've got to stick to them. 'KG' knows what he can and cannot do, and he maybe pushed a little bit too far."
Even so, Boucher didn't struggle to form his own firm view on what Rabada had done: "I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. In our day we'd try push very hard for a win and try make batters feel uncomfortable if we were on top. But the laws have changed. I understand where the ICC want to go with it, but hopefully they find a balance and they don't take the emotion out of the game." Match Prediction
That approach wouldn't have helped the South Africans when they met with match referee Andy Pycroft on Thursday. "We voiced our concerns over the rule that he quoted to us and a couple of variations of the rule," Boucher said. "It's a tough one because the talk about excessive celebrations in the area of the batter and making contact with the batter ... I don't feel he made any contact with the batter. He wasn't even looking at him. Yes, he was in his space. But there's probably different ways you can look at it. But it doesn't really matter how we feel now."
It doesn't. What does is how South Africa are going to fill the Rabada-sized hole in their attack at the Wanderers. And stop Rabada from leaving it in future.
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