Cricket doesn’t need lawyers to keep the peace, surely

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THE WEEK THAT WAS: He’s a gun and all cricket fans want to see him in action, but young South African fast bowler Kagiso Rabada got off lightly and needs to learn his lesson, says chief writer RON REED:

THERE ARE a few things about the highly controversial Kagiso Rabada case on which everybody agrees, including the brilliant young South African fast bowler himself.

One, he desperately needs to pull his head in. Two, he is extremely lucky to be playing against Australia in Cape Town this weekend. Three, his presence is nonetheless welcome because any big sports event is diminished by the absence of one or more of its best players.

Kagiso Rabada during day 2 of the 3rd Test match. Pic: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Kagiso Rabada during day 2 of the 3rd Test match. Pic: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Kiwi QC Michael Nelson, acting as the ICC’s judicial commissioner, has come under fierce attack for lifting the two-match suspension imposed by match referee Jeff Crowe after Rabada shoulder-bumped Australian captain Steve Smith – but he was right about a couple of aspects of the incident.

The contact was pretty minor and it wasn’t necessarily deliberate. If that was all there was to it, then a two-match suspension could be considered well over the top. An over-reaction.

But, of course, it wasn’t as simple as that. Rabada has form, and a lot of it – five breaches of the code of conduct in 12 months, including one other instance of making physical contact, which is, rightly, a no-no.

That’s why Crowe’s original call was fair enough. It was a strong response by an experienced cricket person to a young firebrand with obvious anger management issues who doesn’t seem to have come to terms with the concept of unacceptable conduct and the spirit of the game, which cannot be allowed to be trampled into the turf by any player, veteran or rookie, superstar or schoolboy, Test player or park scrubber.

Nelson would have done the sport a favour by upholding his respected countryman’s verdict, just so that the line that had been drawn in the sand – yes, the famous “line” that the Australian team are always going on about, which must never be crossed – remained in place for all to see.

He could still have made the point that the contact was, to him, negligible – not quite the way Smith remembers it – but seen to it that Rabada paid a proper price for his serial offending.

But that’s not the way lawyers work. The benefit of the doubt took precedence – and now we await the unintended consequences.

Smith has quickly alluded to this, suggesting that it may now be open slather on all such disciplinary matters with all countries – Australia no exception – liable to challenge any decision they don’t like, leading to as lawyers’ picnic.

That, surely, is the last thing the game needs or wants. Surely cricket can look after itself.

The ICC needs to ponder long and hard whether the system needs another level of judgment above and beyond the referees, who might not be perfectly equipped on a quasi-legal professional level but are at least vastly experienced cricket people who understand what should and should not be allowed to happen out in the middle, the emotions involved, the differences between banter and vilification and the nature of red mist.

It’s not really rocket science – not when you’ve been involved as long and as deeply as Crowe has – and Smith is far from alone in suggesting that the former New Zealand batsman has every right to be annoyed.

The South African cricket hierarchy has a bit to answer for in this case. Rabada should have been pulled into line well before now and the people in charge should be very careful that they do not find themselves saddled with a reputation as whingers who are unable to accept the umpires’ decision.

The good news, of course, is that Rabada has stated that he is aware that he must lift his game in matters of discipline. If he does, he has an enormous future both as a powerful uniting force in South African social culture and, of course, as one of the most gifted fast bowlers in the world, perhaps in the history of the game.

Any more crossing “the line” on his part will seriously derail his brilliant career and that would constitute a form of sporting tragedy.

 

 

GOOD TO see basketball enjoying a renaissance, especially in Melbourne, where the town’s only NBL team, United, has made the premiership play-offs. And the emergence of Melbourne-born Ben Simmons as the hottest rookie in the American NBA – along with the fine work of Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellevadova, Joe Ingles and others – has revived interest levels that had dropped away alarmingly a few years ago.

Against that backdrop, the announcement that the all-star USA national team will visit Melbourne for two matches against the Australian Boomers next year is undoubtedly a coup. How big a coup? “One of the greatest sporting coups of all time,” gushed the Sunday Herald Sun in its official editorial comment space. “It is difficult to overstate how big a deal this announcement is and what a massive thanks we owe Basketball Australia, the State Government and its major events arm, Visit Victoria, for getting this deal done.”

Hmmm. I would have thought the Open tennis and the Grand Prix, not to mention the Melbourne Cup carnival, would showcase the city more widely and provide a greater fillip to the economy each and every year than a one-off visit by any hoops team, so yes the Sun-Hun has got a little bit over-excited, methinks. But let’s not get too cynical – it will be well worth watching, especially as I have long been suggesting in print that Melbourne fans do not get to see the Australian teams, the Boomers or the Opals, nearly often enough. Which is to say hardly ever. So, bring it on.

 

 

TIGER WOODS is back in vogue, even in Melbourne, where golf fans were told the other day to get excited because the great man will be coming back – albeit many months off, as in November next year – for the President’s Cup as captain of the American team and perhaps even as a player. The greatest golfer of his generation is firmly back on the comeback trail after a disastrous few years on many fronts. He looks to be approaching his old form and with the US Masters now only a week away the anticipation of a full-blown return to his old status has a lot of people very excited, himself no exception by the sound of his tweets.

However, his parade is about to be rained upon. A new biography – TIGER WOODS by American writers Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian – is, according to a New York Times review I read this week, deeply unflattering to him and tears strips off his father Earl. Woods senior and his wife raised a narcissistic loner who lacked basic decency, the authors say. “Even the most basic civilities – a simple hello or thank-you – went missing from his vocabulary. A nod was too much to expect.” They also accuse him of routinely telling lies to the media since he was young and present evidence to support “questions” about whether he used performance enhancing drugs. The reviewer says the book “is littered with the bodies of those Woods cut out of his life without a thank-you or a goodbye – girlfriends, coaches, agents, caddies. If you stripped most of the golf out of this book, you might sometimes think you are reading the biography of a sociopath”.

Earl Woods is portrayed as the worst kind of stage father who profited early and often from his son’s career. He was a liar and adulterer and was addicted to pornography, which filled “every drawer, every cabinet” of a home a former employee described as “a house of horrors”.

All in all, not exactly what Tiger needs as he sets about repairing his image.

 

 

LOOKING TO kill an hour before switching to full-on footy mode on Thursday, I tuned into the first Test between New Zealand and England in Auckland, a day-nighter. Good call. Spectacular batting collapses are always fascinating to watch, especially when there is no obvious reason for it – other than expert bowling. And that’s exactly what was on offer from left-armer Trent Boult, whose career-best figures of 6-32 at one stage threatened to dismiss the Poms for the lowest score ever, by any Test team – 26 by the Kiwis against England at the same venue in 1955 – before the last-wicket avoided that humiliation and got them to 58.

 

That is the fourth time the last pair have more than doubled the combined efforts of the other nine – and two of those have involved Australia in recent times. The late Philip Hughes and the debutant Agar Ashton went from 117 to 280 against England at Nottingham in 2013, two years after Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon turned 9-21 into 47 against South Africa at Cape Town.

The modern-day Australians have had their fair share of horror collapses, so the schadenfreude over the Poms latest disaster needs to be kept within reason. That said, it was enjoyable to watch – for me, bringing back memories of the day I was lucky enough to be in Trinidad to witness Australia’s Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie smash the West Indies for 51, Brian Lara included. However, Lara responded with a double century and two centuries in the remaining three Tests, two of which the Windies won, in probably the most impressive exhibition of sustained dominance I have seen, Steve Smith’s recent Bradmanesque efforts notwithstanding. Not sure if the Poms have anyone capable of a similar rescue mission.

 

SPORTSMAN OF THE WEEK

To pick up where we left off six months ago – and maybe we can just set this in stone for the ensuing six months – Dusty Martin started season 2018 with another blinder, including the goal that snuffed out the Blues’ gallant challenge. Another Brownlow coming up?

Dustin Martin was back to his best against the Blues in Round 1.
Dustin Martin was back to his best against the Blues in Round 1.

WINNER OF THE WEEK

He’s lucky, alright, but South African fast bowler Kagiso Rabada – with a lot of help from his legal friends – managed to overturn a suspension that would have put a serious dent in his brilliant career and in his team’s chances of winning the series against Australia.

 

LOSER OF THE WEEK

Footballer KATIE BRENNAN is living every sportsperson’s nightmare, missing a Grand Final because of suspension. Whether the punishment fits the crime, an unlawful tackle, is debatable – and the Western Bulldogs have debated it within an inch of its life, without success – but the rules against tackles that could injure opponents’ heads are there for a reason.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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