Kagiso Rabada is 22 years of age, he has the cricket world at his feet, he takes a wicket every 40 balls in Test cricket, the best by any bowler that has played the game in the past century, he already has more 10 wicket hauls than Glenn McGrath, James Anderson and Curtly Ambrose, he is ranked first in the ICC bowlers' rankings. On the evidence of his current form, he was always destined to be the top-ranked bowler in Test cricket, but his temper and aggression have been his bane.
Importantly, the series will be deprived of Rabada after he was suspended for the reminder of the matches, having accumulated over eight demerit points over 13 months, a disciplinary record that warrants a two-match suspension, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC).
So how is it that a 15-year-old boy, who is described by his school cricket coach as a "disciplinarian and unlike the usual teenager", has turned into a man who has grabbed more headlines for his unwarranted behaviour on the cricket field than his accomplishments with the ball?
Rabada has had a decent upbringing, his father is a pioneer in South Africa for aviation medicine, he attended a private school, he is considered to be an intelligent young man and almost the icon for black kids in the Rainbow Nation.
Former fast bowlers have found it difficult to explain how they can be humble and polite off the field, and then fiery on the field, labelling it as ‘white line fever’. One of the first time Rabada was told to be aggressive on the cricket field was on the night of the 2014 U19 World Cup final, when hard task master and his coach, Ray Jennings, asked him to be make his presence felt. Rabada led his team to victory, but neither were there any 'send-offs', nor any explosive remark. It was just a fiery spell that included a few bouncers and a follow through that ended up close to the batsmen.
Rabada now plays at the highest level, and spends a lot of time and effort in planning and executing a dismissal. At the conclusion of the Test match, Rabada described his outburst as one caused by passion.
However, it is interesting to note in all of Rabada’s altercations have been with players who have had a history of getting under the skin of their respective opponents. Niroshan Dickwella has ruffled a few feathers in recent times, Ben Stokes has the knack of provoking the opposition and the Australians are masters at provocation by unleashing a series of verbal volleys.
It shows Rabada is lured into stoushes far too easily and cannot control his emotions. Against India a couple of months ago, he stared and glared. Against Australia he has crossed the line. Rabada may term it is as "passion", but he needs to learn to be subtle about it. He is clever enough with the ball, as evident by his Test record that he does not need extra motivation to dismantle the opposition. He needs to find an alternative method to release his emotions. Perhaps do a Imran Tahir and run around the ground ecstatically with arms aloft, or even a Dale Steyn-like chainsaw celebration.
According to many in the South African cricket circles, Rabada now sees himself as one of the leaders in the dressing room and believes he has to stand up against bullying against the 'soft targets' in his team. The way he walked outside the dressing room during the staircase altercation between David Warner and Quinton de Kock is a good example about his attitude of standing up for his teammates and nation.
Rababa is aware that in a couple of years, he could well be the one of the most experienced players in that Proteas' dressing room. He wants to set an example for upcoming players such as Lungi Ngidi, Aiden Markram and ensure the soft spoken players such de Kock is not bullied by the opposition.
The series against Australia had almost become personal for Rabada. He managed to raise his bowling to the next level, but sadly his behaviour became a cause for concern. Past players believe that the ICC have gone too hard on tolerance levels, but to be fair, sending off a batsman or screaming in his face is one of the most unparliamentary acts in cricket.
While the debate might rage about if Rabada did make deliberate contact with Smith, the fact that Rabada was in the vicinity of the batsmen and letting his emotions get the better of him, looking to make eye contact with batsmen, is a part of his game that he must eradicate.
Rabada, is a fast learner, as he has proved with the ball at the most elite level in such a short period of time. But the time has come for him to control his temper, celebrations and realise he does not need to prove his leadership credentials with unwarranted behaviour, his supreme skills and record already proves he one of the leaders in South Africa dressing room.
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