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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Kagiso Rabada and others punished by intrusive TV coverage should be cut some slack

South African cricketer the latest to fall foul of the rules after his outburst was picked up by on-field mics. Paul Radley offers his thoughts on this dilemma.

Kagiso Rabada, right, will miss South Africa's second Test against England after receiving a one match suspension. Peter Cziborra / Reuters
Kagiso Rabada, right, will miss South Africa's second Test against England after receiving a one match suspension. Peter Cziborra / Reuters

Viewers of Test cricket are going to be deprived seeing one of the most exhilarating young players in the game when South Africa play England in the second Test at Trent Bridge. And whose fault is it? The viewers.

No. Maybe more accurately it is the fault of a combination of a disciplinary committee taking offence on the viewers’ behalf, and broadcasters who are too good for the players’ good.

Technology is delving ever deeper into the world of sportsmen. We should all be thankful for that. Yet when it is perceived the viewers won't like what they see, it is the players who suffer.

Kagiso Rabada, the South Africa fast bowler, has been banned for shouting an expletive that was picked up on the stump microphone in the Lord’s Test.

He was giving Ben Stokes, the England allrounder, a send off at the time. Notwithstanding the fact send offs are ugly indulgences, do we really think it will have upset Stokes’ dainty sensibilities that much? Hardly.

Temba Bavuma, Misbah ul Haq, and many others besides, can probably attest to the fact Stokes gives as good as he gets. And quite right, too. Part of the attraction of the Indian Premier League’s most expensive foreign import is his feistiness.

Like they said in the Sky Sports commentary box – from where a motley gang of stump-kickers, dirt-smugglers and diuretic-violators lend such astute and informed perspective – this was hardly Javed Miandad brandishing his bat at Dennis Lillee.

The one-match suspension was invoked because Rabada had previous. Demerit points were totted up, and he was stood down for a game. Meaning a series already light on stardust is down another headline act.

AB de Villiers is presently sitting out Test cricket. Faf du Plessis could not make the start of the Lord’s game, in favour of staying with his wife, who had recently given birth.

And now Rabada has been chucked out for something that would only get a warning or, at worst, a point penalty in a sport as prim and proper as tennis. It already felt like Test cricket was eating itself. This is the latest confirmation.

"It's a big loss for everything, the Proteas and Test cricket," Dean Elgar, South Africa’s stand-in captain, said.

"He is a vitally important bowler. He's been a phenomenal strength to our bowling attack for the last three years in all formats. I think for the game of cricket it is a loss."

The fact the suspension was meted out mid match must have stung, too. Given he might have felt he had been done in by technology, Rabada could have been given to turn around and punch the Spidercam – in use in a Lord’s Test for the first time – the next time it nestled in near him.

Do the protagonists have to be a bit smarter? Perhaps box a bit more cleverly? The stump mic is not exactly a new device, after all. It is 30 years since Mike Gatting’s row with Shakoor Rana made the airwaves via the batsman’s castle.

Kevin Pietersen found a more modern way to invoke censure during the Big Bash League last winter, when he was fined for labelling an umpire’s decision an “absolute shocker” while in direct conversation with the TV commentator.

The player was doing us viewers a favour by being mic’d up and offering some live insight. Isn’t it a bit harsh to then be prissy about some stream of consciousness that follows a contentious decision?

Broadly speaking, the all-seeing eye is a great thing for sport. The referee’s mic in rugby, for example, is a broadcasting masterstroke.

Viewers were able to be judge, jury and executioner over the incident that confirmed the Lions series in New Zealand would be halved. And Romain Poite, the poor, put upon referee, could at least explain his point of view with real-time commentary.

Golf’s high-definition super slow-motion replays are sublime, too. And yet they have provoked more than one tournament-ending penalty for players because of the observations of people sat at home watching. Jon Rahm, the new sensation from Spain, nearly went the same way at the Irish Open on Sunday.

We should all be thankful for the standard of televised sports coverage we get today, but perhaps we should be mindful of cutting the players just a little bit of slack, too.