CAPE TOWN – “How are you, Mr Rabada?” said one superstar, AB de Villiers, to another.
It was a mark of genuine concern, but De Villiers needn’t have worried, for Kagiso Rabada showed no visible indication that he had just attended an exhausting six-and-a-quarter-hour appeal hearing for the ICC’s Level 2 charge against him.
Rabada just wanted to bowl and catch up on the two hours of training he had missed while trying to prove his innocence for the shoulder incident with Australian captain Steve Smith in the second Test at St George’s Park last week.
The young tearaway did not even want to warm-up, only relenting after insistence from Proteas coach Ottis Gibson.
It is this enthusiasm – let alone skill and passion – that South Africa could miss when the third Test gets under way at Newlands on Thursday should Judge Michael Heron’s verdict, which is expected within 48 hours from 3.15pm on Monday, uphold Rabada’s two-match suspension.
Proteas opener Dean Elgar certainly admits losing Rabada would be “massive” on so many levels, but ultimately the fast bowler’s fate is not in the team’s control.
“Having him in the side is massive for us. I think it is massive for the game and massive for the format, because ‘KG’ (Rabada) is an extremely special cricketer,” Elgar told reporters while the hearing was still under way.
“But there are rules that are implemented for certain instances in the game, and we as cricketers respect that.
“As players, we don’t have influence over what has happened in the hearing or what can possibly happen. We are trying to isolate ourselves from that situation.
“But it would be nice to put it behind us. There’s been so much noise and people have actually forgotten that there’s such a great Test series happening between two extremely strong and competitive teams.
“It is just a pity that all this backroom noise is hindering what is quite an exciting Test series.
“Whether KG is playing in the third Test or not‚ it’s out of our hands, and hopefully we can put this all behind us and carry on playing cricket.”
Although the focus has often not been on the runs scored and wickets taken in this series, Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann was full of praise for the way Elgar and Hashim Amla blunted the visitors’ attack on the second day at St George’s Park.
Although the duo never rattled along at a rasping rate, they kept the fearsome Aussie pacemen at bay for 46.2 overs in a partnership of 88 runs.
Considering South Africa eventually eked out a 139-run first-innings lead, it was massive in the context of a match the Proteas won by six wickets.
It was these sorts of contributions – and even bigger – that Elgar consistently produced in 2017, when he finished as the world’s third-highest Test run-scorer with 1 128 at an average of 53.71.
The New Year has not been equally productive for Elgar, with the half-century in Port Elizabeth being the first of the Australian series for the gritty left-hander.
This has caused him much frustration, especially his return against off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who has had him caught-and-bowled on two occasions already.
“I’ve handled it quite cr*p,” Elgar admitted about facing Lyon.
“It’s been a little bit frustrating. I actually think I am batting nicely. I’m getting through all the tough parts and letting myself down with all these stupid, silly and uncharacteristic dismissals.
“It’s something I’ve thought about and reflected on. It’s not something my team requires. They require me to bat out a day, which obviously puts us in a good position, as we saw in PE.
“It’s always going to be difficult to follow up on what was a very good year last season. I am aware of it.
“As a player, you need to address certain things with yourself and get past it.”