The nation of South Africa can breathe a sigh of relief after Kagiso Rabada was cleared to play in the third Test against Australia after successfully having a two-match ban for making physical contact with Steve Smith overturned by the ICC’s appeal commissioner Michael Hernon.
While the Rainbow Nation was elated with the news of Rabada's availability for the series, the ICC code of conduct process has left many former cricketers and experts bewildered.
Rabada was initially charged during the second Test after it was adjudicated by the match referee, Jeff Crowe, that he made intentional contact with Australian skipper, Steve Smith. Rabada was hit with a Level 2 offence and three demerit points — that left him with nine demerit points, which accordingly to ICC rules warrants a two match ban.
A week later he is free to play, as the South African team led by barrister Dali Mpofu successfully appealed to the ICC that his contact with Smith was not deliberate. From the footage it is difficult to state it was intentional, but the fact that the case was overturned begs the question — are the ICC match referees and officials making their judgement based on the a particular series, a player or a situation of the match?
The incident on the opening day only added spice to what has already been a heated series in which tempers have boiled over on and off the field.
During the first Test at Durban, three players were charged for breaking the ICC code of conduct. It led to captains having a meeting with the match officials and being told to tone down their respective team’s behaviours.
While the initiative by the match officials was proactive, the strict policies adopted for the series has given the impression that the ICC code of conduct rules have been tampered, at least in terms of the flexibility. There is absolutely no doubt, Rabada should have been charged for a ‘send off’, after screaming in the Australian skippers face, but the fact that the match referee charged Rabada for ‘deliberate’ contact was always going to ensure that courts and lawyers were going to feature in a legal battle.
Looking at the footage there was certainly physical contact with Rabada and Smith, but the fact that Rabada does not deviate from his line and with Smith, also holds his line it is difficult to prove if it was a deliberate action.
It is difficult to distinguish between intent and unintentional by watching a three seconds of the video. While Rabada does turn towards the slip cordon as Smith nears him, it is only a turn of the head rather than him purposely leaning his shoulder into the line of Smith.
At the conclusion of the second Test Rabada had said, “We would not be appealing if I had done it deliberately”. The world No 1 bowler had been charged for physical contact 14 months ago, but at that time, the South Africans had refused to bail him out because it was quite obvious that he had changed his line of sight and had deliberately touched his opponent.
The incident in Port Elizabeth was a further indication that the match referee had twigged the rules for the Australian series given the precedence that was set in the first Test. While sanity might have prevailed in the Rabada scenario, it also begs the question as to how the ICC has different regulations for different cricket matches.
A few days ago, in the Nidahas trophy, Bangladesh and Sri Lankan players nearly came to blows. There was physical contact and Bangladesh captain even pointed his finger and also touched the fourth umpire, albeit in a polite manner to get his point across to the official. Accordingly, to the code of conduct, abusing or touching an umpire is the highest level of offence and despite that neither Shakib nor the Bangladesh or Sri Lankan player were charged with a Level 2 offence.
Last year in midst of the ‘DRS gate’ in Bangalore, match referee Stuart Broad failed to charge any player from respective teams. Smith had brought the game into disrepute by looking at the dressing room as per the code of conduct, but still escaped without a charge. Indian skipper, Virat Kohi had alleged the Australian of cheating, but was summoned by the match referee, while in 2014, Warner was charged by the ICC after alleging the South African team of ‘changing the condition of a ball’ during a press conference.
Over the past few years, there are many examples that indicate the rules and regulations vary for a particular team, player or a series. The ICC has stood firm in recent times in cracking down on ‘poor behaviour’ and the demerit system is a proactive scheme to penalise the repeat offenders. To be fair, the demerit system had worked, David Warner was well behaved in the second Test, Nathan Lyon deviated from his childish antics and the players walked on different paths to the dressing rooms during intervals.
ICC is certainly heading in the right direction by eradicating pitiable behaviour from the game, but before the officials take more stubborn stands they need to ensure there is no prejudgment in regards to a series, a player and a situation. Until the ICC does not get it spot on, we are likely to see more cricketers sitting through legal battles rather than fine tuning their own games.