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Independent commissioner Michael Heron has overturned Kagiso Rabada’s two-Test ban, clearing South Africa’s spearhead to play the rest of the series against Australia.
South African barrister Dali Mpofu successfully argued at Monday’s six-hour hearing that the express paceman did not deliberately make contact with Steve Smith’s shoulder during a send-off that marred the second Test.
Rabada had his level-two charge of making “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact”, which had resulted in three demerit points that triggered a two-Test suspension, thrown out.
Heron instead found the world’s top-ranked Test bowler guilty of a minor level-one charge of conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game, issuing a single demerit point and fine of 25 per cent of his match fee.
The reprieve is a significant boost for the Proteas’ bid for their first home Test series win over Australia since the fall of apartheid.
It means the 22-year-old will retain his place in South Africa’s XI for the third Test, which starts in Cape Town on Thursday.
The series is currently level at 1-1 after Rabada bowled his team to victory in Port Elizabeth, putting on a reverse-swing masterclass while snaring incredible figures of 11-150.
It also sets the stage for another fiery encounter between the rivals. Rabada, who was booked for two send-offs in Port Elizabeth, now has seven demerit points on his rap sheet and any further charge will trigger a two-Test ban.
Smith last month floated the idea of trying to provoke Rabada and it wouldn’t surprise if that transpires at Newlands later this week.
“It could perhaps be a plan to try and get him fired up,” Smith said at the time.
“You never know what some guys do when they’re fired up.”
Heron’s verdict was somewhat of a surprise given Rabada told reporters last week he takes “responsibility for what happened” and needs to stop “letting the team down”.
“The key issue is whether Mr Rabada made ‘inappropriate and deliberate physical contact’ with Mr Smith. I am not ‘comfortably satisfied’ that Mr Rabada intended to make contact,” Heron said in a statement.
“I consider the conduct was inappropriate, lacked respect for his fellow player and involved non-deliberate and minor contact. The actions contravened the principle that a dismissed batsman should be left alone.
“Rabada will be well aware of the consequences of any further breaches of the code.”
The ruling, which has been accepted by the International Cricket Council, will trigger more debate about the consistency of the sport’s disciplinary system and how best to improve on-field behaviour.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Twitter that common sense had prevailed.
“This is perhaps an opportune moment to remind all players of their responsibilities to maintaining a standard of behaviour,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said in a statement.
Rabada was late to the Proteas’ training session on Monday because of the hearing but will now have a standard lead-up to the third Test.
Australia opener Cameron Bancroft suggested on Monday that Australia had been preparing to face Rabada.