Perhaps it was puerile. Kagiso Rabada knew that he was already in the warning zone after having pushed Niroshan Dickwella early this year. Profanity, especially voiced within earshot of the stump microphone, can be fatal in such circumstances.
Yet, the lot of the fast bowler is such that one that has to be pumped with adrenaline on his way to success. The profusion of abuse mouthing, hard talking brutes who also hurl down thunderbolts is not a chancy correlation. Aggression is part of the deal of a fast man, and even that esoteric concept called ‘spirit of cricket’ vaguely underlines that the noble game is a holistic endeavour.
If cricket can be hyped and elevated as a game that transcends just action and touches the realms of poetry, philosophy and every other aspect of life, it is by definition all-encompassing. Mind, body and spirit are all seamlessly engrossed into the action unfolding on the pitch. In that case, it is ridiculous to expect a toiling athlete, charging himself up to perform the most demanding of the cricketing disciplines, to be able to separate aggression of mind and body with the equanimity of a saint.
It happens from time to time, as in the case of Frank Tyson. But these are exceptions. Tyson, after all, was someone who mouthed lines of Wordsworth as he walked back to his bowling mark. In general, you are much more likely to get a Dennis Lillee, a Glenn McGrath or a Fred Trueman or a John Snow or a Shoaib Akhtar.
And please, don’t give me that myth laced fabrication about the glorious West Indian pace bowlers who never sledged. They could be as misbehaved as the next man. Michael Holding kicked down the stumps, Colin Croft shoulder charged an umpire, something which would have banned the men from the modern game. There are also tales of Andy Roberts deliberately overstepping and trying to hit batsmen on the body. Wayne Daniel bowled beamers. Malcolm Marshall threatened to kill Ian Smith — first verbally and followed it up by bowling at his body the next time he came across the Kiwi wicketkeeper.
Now imagine all these names mentioned above being banned at the slightest hint of aggression. And try to think how much the game would have been poorer if such extreme measures had been taken.
Fast bowling, because of all the sweat, blood, pace and bounce it revolves around, is naturally aggressive. Banning one for shouting ‘F*** off’, as Rabada did when he dismissed Ben Stokes, is nothing but ridiculous.
Of course, one can argue that it was trespassing the borders of gamesmanship after one had been warned for blatant misbehaviour earlier in the year. And that since ICC has decided to clamp down on on-field misconduct, it may be futile to cite examples from the bygone years — years that have gathered gold-dust in frail, selective memories of the past generation.
But it cannot be denied that making sure that Rabada will not run in to bowl at Trent Bridge effectively reduces the already limited competitive element in the series.
Already the team is suffering from a jaded AB de Villiers on break from Test cricket, the absence of Dale Steyn due to injury and the unavailability of captain Faf du Plessis whose wife has gone through a difficult process of childbirth.
Additionally, Vernon Philander, already battling injury issues in the run up to the current Test, suffered a blow to the hand during a fighting innings and could not bowl when England batted the second time. Given that Philander and Rabada form the core of the South African attack in the absence of Steyn, the depleted resources of the visitors are being stretched very thin indeed.
The men in the reserve, Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo, are not really the most experienced in the world. They have played a total of three Tests between them. To expect them to step into the fray and challenge the formidable England side may be a far stretch.
To their credit, the Proteans have continued to battle in the Lord’s Test. At the end of the third day, England are clearly on top. But there have been several spirited performances from the rudderless side. Especially the rear-guard action from the lower order, with half centuries by Quentin de Kok and Philander, was a very impressive effort to get back into the game. Rallying from 104 for 4, and then 248 for 7 and finally reaching 361 to trail by a not-too-imposing 97, was no mean task.
But now, with Rabada having been shown a virtual second yellow card, the probability of a riveting contest at Trent Bridge has been all but hit for a six. And an intriguing battle in the war, the duel between Stokes and Rabada, has been stalled, leashed and put in a straight jacket just as it was getting interesting.
Contests are the soul of cricket. That is what makes it the sport it is. Take that away and you are going through predictable motions.
The ban may have been e a correct decision if one goes by the strict set of rules and regulations that structure the code of conduct of the players, but from the point of view of interesting cricket one sincerely wishes that better senses had prevailed.
One does hope that the series does not fizzle out into a lame one-sided affair. If it does, the decision to ban Rabada may have much to do with it.