Bad blood in Australia-South Africa series may be a great advertisement for Test cricket
Kagiso Rabada has had a tumultuous few days. The sprightly fast bowler was instrumental in bringing the Proteas back in the four-match Test series against Australia by claiming figures of 11-141 at Port Elizabeth in the second Test as the hosts notched up a comfortable victory.
But brickbats inexorably followed the bouquets as KG was handed a two-match ban following his altercation with the Aussie captain Steve Smith after the pacer had picked up his prized wicket. This means the in-form bowler is all set to miss the rest of this intriguing Test series unless an appeal overturns the ban.
Proteas captain Faf du Plessis was quick to denounce the suspension and made an interesting observation while delivering his verdict of the ICC judgment. Du Plessis feels the ICC is robbing the game of its drama through its draconian and sterile rules of conduct.
He mentions quite eloquently that the code of conduct may one day ensure that bowling machines square up against robot batsmen as the human elements of passion and emotion are unequivocally restricted by the code of conduct.
One cannot help but agree with the Proteas captain. The South Africa-Australia series has proven to be a mouth-watering contest between two well-matched and feisty teams not willing to give an inch.
The cricket has been top-notch and what has livened up the spectacle is the aggression and drama that the players served up during the action.
While Australia dominated proceedings to out-bat and out-bowl the hosts in the first Test, more headline-grabbing were the stories of the tussle between Quinton de Kock, the SA keeper and David Warner, the Aussie opener during the encounter. The two were engaged in a verbal spat that threatened to derail the Test series until the focus shifted to the second Test and to equally remarkable incidents featuring Rabada and Mitchell Marsh.
While no one wants unsportsmanlike behave to ruin a match, it is beneficial for the game in the long-run to have characters who wear their hearts in their sleeve and are not afraid to demonstrate their emotions during proceedings, provided they remain within certain boundaries.
Cricket is by far the strictest sports when it comes to cutting out dissent; football, tennis and other more global sports give much more leeway to players to express their passions and it leads to a more engaging spectacle. However, their codes of conduct manage to keep that aggression within acceptable limits.
In cricket, however even the slightest show of dissent at an umpiring decision, or the hint of an aggression after an achievement or failure, is frowned upon.
No one can deny that the evenly-fought Test series between South Africa and Australia has been the cynosure of all eyes because of the characters on both sides and has been a more vibrant cricketing journey than a more sanitized and sterilized version would have been. It may become a great advertisement for contemporary Test cricket. The dramatics that an El Clasico or a Federer-Nadal match generates may actually be replicated by its more sedate cousin, cricket.
New-age cricketers such as India captain Virat Kohli are global sportsmen who play the game their own way and their emotions often bubble out during a particularly poignant moment.
The ICC would do well to take this into account and evolve. The only beneficiaries will be the game and its fans.