As You Think So You Become
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"'KG', whatever you do, don't celebrate." The cry rang out with anguish and anger, like a reaction to a self-inflicted wound. It tore across St George's Park from the old stand to the west, an unremarkable but dignified chunk of brick, wood and corrugated iron now scarred by plastic seats. Above, the skies hung heavy and grey. Below, no-one could quite believe what had happened.
Not that they should have been surprised: they had seen it all before. In February 2018 Kagiso Rabada celebrated removing Shikhar Dhawan - for 34 in the last match of a one-day series in which Dhawan had lashed South Africa's bowlers for 51 not out, 109 and 76 - with the help of a catch at deep square leg by waving him goodbye and telling him, impolitely, to go away. The next month, in the aftermath of trapping Steve Smith in front, Rabada dipped his shoulder at the departing Australian then captain and made deliberate contact. In the same match he skewed David Warner's off stump, and then screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed some more into the batsman's face.
On Thursday he did something similar to Joe Root's off stump, and something similar to Root, the most inoffensive man in cricket. But this time Rabada let rip his blood-curdling roar from his haunches; his head angled downward and far from Root's eyeline, his legs spread wide, his arms wrapped around the outsides of his legs. He looked, and sounded, as if he was birthing a monster. Even so, it seemed harmless enough. In a member of the Twitterati's estimation - one "The Anonymous" - Rabada was merely "admiring a white man's shoes".
Doubtless the thinkers among us have launched their theses to explain how the horrors of slavery and colonialism, that will forever be hardwired into the soul of every black person who will ever live, were the spark for Rabada's fire. There's no resisting the irresistible, they will say. Who would be able to quell the voice of victory rising from within at the opportunity to strike back, however symbolically, at the crimes of history? For some, Rabada was asserting his ownership of his body in the faces of the slave traders who came for millions like him, and chasing Root and his ilk off the land that was stolen all those centuries ago. And who are we mere cricket-minded folk to say it ain't so.
But that misses the immediate point. Rabada's problem isn't so much what he does to celebrate his successes but where he does it. Had he taken a step or two away from Root before bearing down into his emphatic sumo squat as he yelled his head off, he would have been far less likely to be found guilty of "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". Instead, he did it close enough to his defeated opponent to know whether he ties his laces in double or triple bows. Rabada already had Root's wicket. He wasn't entitled to his personal space as well. Free Cricket betting tips
Those raging at the ICC's passionless poppycock around how cricket should be played also need to get some reality. Rabada's behaviour would have passed almost unnoticed if he played rugby or football for a living, but the truth is he is a cricketer. We can huff and puff for all our worth about the ICC sucking the marrow out of the game's bones with their snowflake sensibilities and it won't make a damn of difference. The code of conduct will still be the law of cricketland. We know this. Rabada should know it. So why give the nerdy health-and-safety prefects opportunities to flex their imaginary muscles?
The disappointment is that Rabada hasn't learnt his lesson even after the Smith business, when he said: "It's going to have to stop. I can't keep doing this because I am letting the team down and I am letting myself down. I won't change the way I express myself but I just will get far away from the batter. I don't know what I am thinking, actually. To be honest, I just let it out. I've let myself down and the team down. I have to move forward."
As the denizens of St George's Park might tell him, "Boet [son], you're stuck in reverse and your review mirror's broken." All four of Rabada's most recent run-ins with the suits - there have been six in total, dating back to February 2017 - have happened in front of the Port Elizabeth crowd, who deserve better from those who take their money in exchange for playing a game for their viewing pleasure. They have also all happened during the previous 24 months, which is why Rabada has been banned for the Wanderers Test starting next Friday. Unlike in the Smith case, Rabada cannot be wriggled off the hook by expensive lawyers because the Root conviction was for a level one offence and level one offences cannot be appealed. Besides, Rabada did not contest the charge. The Dhawan sentence expires in February, but the Root incident means he will continue to be one demerit point away from the four that trigger a suspension until the Smith and Warner rulings pass their use-by-dates in March. Unless, of course, Rabada gets himself into trouble again during the six white-ball games South Africa will play against England in the next month.
There is a way Rabada could yet play at the Wanderers, but it is as long a shot as Keshav Maharaj's spells have become in this series. As the ICC chief executive, Manu Sawhney has the authority to overrule the match officials, on-field umpires Rod Tucker and Bruce Oxenford, third umpire Joel Wilson, fourth umpire Allahudien Paleker and referee Andy Pycroft, who took action. But how would Sawhney do that without undermining the officials and the code of conduct itself? Even so, Cricket South Africa (CSA) are known to be in discussions with the ICC, with David Richardson - Sawhney's immediate predecessor and currently a CSA consultant - involved, to try and find a way out of the mess. Might Rabada yet feature in the climax of what has been a gripping series if his sentence is suspended until the white-ball games, for instance? The South Africans' argument will likely centre on what they believe is "good for the game". Rabada in full flight, his blood racing, his mind fully focused on taking wickets, is exactly that.
But he should consider whether other aspects of how he plays are good for the game. Mother cricket herself seemed to ask him to do so after tea on Friday, when Mark Wood hoiked a catch to mid-on and England declared. Rabada's celebration was of a tired, beaten man. But soon it was apparent that even that was inappropriate: he had overstepped, and the innings continued. 'KG', whatever you do, don't think that was a coincidence.
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