Baiting: Kagiso Rabada gives Steve Smith a mouthful moments before the shoulder clash in Port Elizabeth. Picture: REUTERS
Baiting: Kagiso Rabada gives Steve Smith a mouthful moments before the shoulder clash in Port Elizabeth. Picture: REUTERS

A shoulder charge. A brushing of shirts. An extraordinary reaction to an ordinary event?

A deserved comeuppance for a repeat offender? A cynical manipulation of the rules?

The moment Kagiso Rabada’s shoulder bumped Steve Smith’s at St George’s Park on March 9 it put the focus on the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) disciplinary system. That focus will sharpen on Monday‚ when Rabada’s appeal against his two-match ban is heard.

Michael Herron‚ a prominent New Zealand queen’s counsel‚ will hear the case and then has 48 hours to deliver his decision.

Dali Mpofu‚ the high-profile advocate who in 1999 had Makhaya Ntini’s conviction for rape overturned on appeal‚ will represent Rabada.

Should the fast bowler prevail, he will be free to play in SA’s last two Tests against Australia.

Should his ban be upheld, he will be a spectator in a series he played a major role in keeping competitive by taking 11/150 in Port Elizabeth to help SA level matters at 1-1. With the third Test at Newlands starting on Thursday‚ the clock is ticking.

The prevailing South African narrative has painted Rabada as the victim of both the ICC’s demerit system and of the Australians’ knowledge of how to play that system. But Rabada‚ Test cricket’s No1-ranked bowler and its most demerited player‚ is his own worst enemy.

He has had five dealings with match referees in 13 months‚ one of which resulted in a one-match ban.

He had five demerit points before the St George’s Park Test. Three more points‚ Rabada and everyone else knew‚ would result in a suspension.

"Match referees meet team leaders at the start of each series and talk about any trends in player behaviour and the way the code is to be applied‚ and the teams are advised where the players in an upcoming series stand with respect to their tally of demerit points‚" an ICC spokesperson said.

The South Africans and Australians have admitted they have tried to provoke players who are closer to a ban to act in a way that would attract more demerit points. Does the ICC accept that this practice‚ akin to footballers diving to try and have opponents carded‚ is a problem?

"There have been comments made about provoking players with demerit point tallies but after 18 months of this new system we have seen few‚ if any‚ examples of it actually happening. In 854 days of international cricket in 2017 we saw just six code of conduct offences level two and above."

An example may have been Mitchell Marsh swearing at Rabada after the latter dismissed the former in the second innings at St George’s Park.

But the system worked: that earned Marsh a fine and a demerit point.

Despite that, South Africans have been vocal in their support of Rabada‚ with former Springbok lock Bakkies Botha climbing in boots and all. "Steven Smith gets acquainted with KG’s replacement‚" ran the headline across a photograph of Botha‚ in cricket whites‚ hulking over Smith in a post on Botha’s Twitter account on Friday.

"I wanna lend a hand‚" the tweet read. "I wanna be there for KG. Send me!"

Late on Wednesday night Vernon Philander appeared to tweet: "Haven’t really seen the footage of this incident but by the looks of this… Steve Smith gave ‘KG’ the shoulder.

"He could have avoided any contact but to me he is just as guilty. Trying some football skills to get a penalty? Pity he didn’t dive to top it off."

By Thursday morning Philander had disowned the tweet.

Talk is circulating of spectator boycotts at Newlands and the Wanderers‚ where the fourth Test starts on March 30‚ if Rabada remains banned.

But it seems Rabada himself has had a change of mind on how guilty he is‚ which will strike observers as odd considering he is fighting against match referee Jeff Crowe’s decision to lump him with a fine and three demerit points.

"It’s debatable‚" Rabada said, according to reports published on Friday when he was asked whether he had been harshly dealt with.

"Some people think so‚ some people don’t.

"I take responsibility for what happened. On the video it looks like I got into the guy’s space‚ so I shouldn’t have done that. "I’ll say 50/50‚ it’s my fault. I didn’t feel anything in the moment."

Player behaviour‚ especially that of repeat offenders such as Rabada, will have to change.

The Proteas have added Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris to their squad for the last two Tests against Australia.

One of them might have to step into the breach should Rabada fail in his appeal.

Injured Dale Steyn has not been named.

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