Shadow of poor discipline hangs over third test
A sad, scarred shadow will hang over Newlands from the instant South Africa and Australia take the field on Thursday and will remain gloomily in place until the end of the third test.
It will have nothing to do with the weather. It will, instead, have to do with the fact that three major players in the match are one demerit point away from a ban.
Kagiso Rabada, who escaped that fate on Tuesday thanks to a successful appeal of his punishment for bumping shoulders with Steve Smith during the second test at St George’s Park, is the newest member of this sorry club.
David Warner was signed up for screaming at Quinton de Kock all the way up the dressingroom stairs during the first test at Kingsmead.
Faf du Plessis, the founder of the club, has been one wrong step away from a suspension since he was done for ball-tampering in Australia in November 2016.
Like Rabada, he appealed the match referee’s decision. Unlike Rabada, he lost.
Did South Africa’s captain feel the threat of being removed from the equation?
“I wish that I had this judge with me in Australia,” Du Plessis joked, unwisely, with reference to Michael Heron, the judicial commissioner who heard Rabada’s appeal. “I’d be sitting on one point as well.
“For me it’s not an issue. I don’t push those boundaries at all so it’s not a worrying thing for me.
“There are always one or two guys in the team who are probably flirting with the line a bit more.
“It’s about making sure that those guys are on a shorter leash.”
Unsurprisingly, Du Plessis was chuffed with Heron’s work.
“I don’t see a problem with having a fair system where a neutral guy sits and makes a decision and listens to both parties.
“I was there at that hearing and I said to our people that even if we didn’t win that case I was very impressed with the judge and how he listened to both sides.
“He was very fair in the questions that he asked so I think that process is fair.
“It’s good to have that platform where if you feel you have not done something wrong you can have someone that sits in the middle and has a fair, objective point of view.”
All good, except that Smith was not called to the hearing. But the three umpires who charged Rabada in the first place were part of the proceedings.
Whatever. Du Plessis might want to keep Rabada on an even shorter leash than he was planning, considering both teams have admitted to wondering if they could use the disciplinary system to land vulnerable players in further trouble.
Mitchell Marsh swearing at Rabada after he had been dismissed by the fast bowler at St George’s Park is convincing evidence of exactly that.
Happily, Rabada didn’t react and Marsh was fined and docked a demerit point.
That made Smith’s answer ring hollow when he was asked if he was worried that Warner would cross the line again: “I saw Faf mention before the last test match that they might try bait him.
“If they want to play like that then go for it, but we certainly wont be doing the same thing with Rabada.
“Obviously both now are one indiscretion away from a ban. But, no, we won’t be playing like that.”
Listening to Smith, it’s easy to think the blame for the acrimony in a series in which five players have been disciplined belongs squarely to South Africa.
Did he not, for instance, think he might have been charged along with Rabada, considering it’s difficult to collide with someone if they’re not walking at you?
“I think it was certainly fair for me, coming down the other end of the wicket, to speak to Shaun [Marsh], who was in with me at the time.
“When you’ve got someone out you’ve already won the battle; there’s no need to go over the top.
“I was walking down the other end of the wicket. I certainly didn’t change my line or anything.”
And what of Rabada?
“If he wants to carry on and make mistakes then so be it. We’re just going to play the game as we’ve played it and hopefully go 2-1 up in the series.”
So, Du Plessis can afford to relax the leash on test cricket’s No. 1-ranked fast bowler?
“It’s about playing the game the way we’ve always played it,” Smith said.
“We’ll speak out in the middle. We won’t do anything in a way to antagonise him to make the mistakes that he’s been plagued [with].
“That’s up to him if he wants to make those errors.”
The way Australia play the game — a vicious assault on their opponents that goes far beyond what happens when ball meets bat — is part of the problem.
Or, as Cameron Bancroft confirmed on Monday: “That’s boys being boys playing cricket — who can hurt someone’s feelings the most?”
How about you lot, and the other lot, go out there and play cricket, not indulge in some silly pseudo war?
There’s a series, currently level at 1-1, to win. Get on with it.