You can’t blame fast bowlers for exploding when they achieve success. Theirs is a physical requirement that few athletes face.
All top level sport places physical, emotional and mental demands on its athletes, but barely a handful require that players almost sprint, then jump, contort their bodies, land - with about eight times their body weight going through one leg - while propelling a cricket ball as fast they can over 22 yards, with their weight going one way and their bowling arm another.
Oh, and they have to do that six times in one over, for perhaps six or seven overs in a single spell and then get called up to bowl maybe four or five spells in an innings.
Dale Steyn gave a brief insight in explaining why he wasn’t able to play this week with an eye on possibly getting called up for the remainder of the series against Australia.
“Physically I’m fine, I’m bowling, I’m just not playing. The problem, being a fast bowler, is that I’ve got to land on that front foot of mine, putting eight or nine times my body weight through that front foot and it can only handle so much,” said Steyn.
He injured the heel of his left foot – the one on which he lands – during the first Test against India in Cape Town at the start of the year. It’s not just feet and heels which take a toll, because knees, hamstrings, back and shoulders do too.
It’s a demanding job, which is why Proteas captain, Faf du Plessis, wants the ICC disciplinary regulations to show some discretion and greater awareness of context.
“The way KG plays the game; he’s a competitive fast bowler. And he works bloody hard, he runs in and bowls quick for a long period of time, and when he gets big wickets, that’s celebration, energy; he shows passion,” Du Plessis said of his 22-year-old spearhead, Kagiso Rabada.
Cricket South Africa have appealed the two-match ban Rabada copped in part for the shirt brush incident with Australian captain Steve Smith during the Port Elizabeth Test. Even though that match took place with a background of much animosity between the two teams after the “stairwell affair” at Kingsmead, it’s just ludicrous that it should lead to such severe censure – and Smith milked it for all it was worth.
Rabada will be represented by advocate Dali Mpofu at a hearing on Monday that will be chaired by Michael Heron QC, who has served on disciplinary committees for rugby body Sanzar.
“KG runs in for 15 overs trying to get someone out, he eventually gets him out and he shows some passion; he’s got to show that or we might as well just put a bowling machine out there, and a robot to bat,” Du Plessis explained further.
That raw human element is what makes sport such captivating viewing and to remove it is to take away a key attraction.
Fast bowlers have always pushed the envelope, they just have to. The physical exertions they put their bodies through hour after hour and day after day means the emotional toll will occasionally be directed where it shouldn’t be, but that doesn’t mean players like Rabada deserve punishment, certainly not of the kind for what was barely a flick with an opponent’s shirt.
“I did some stupid stuff growing up too,” said Steyn. “I spat in Suliman Benn’s direction, but I’ve never done something like that since. However I remember playing a club game once and telling a batsman to ‘f off’ and my own teammates walked away from me and I felt so bad I’ve never done it again since.
“You need to make these mistakes to learn from them.”
Steyn copped a one-match ban for the incident involving Benn in 2010 – which came after the West Indies spinner had charged into the South African team room during a lunch interval. Steyn admitted his error, which occured off the field, but resulted from hours of acrimony on it.
That hasn’t been the case with Rabada. The world’s No1 bowler says the past few days have offered him an opportunity for reflection.
Perhaps he can get away from the opposing batsman he’s just dismissed, or hope his teammates get to him before he does something that will put him in danger of breaching the ICC code.
Perhaps though, the ICC code needs amending, an allowance for some animated expression from players whose bodies and minds are being asked to perform tasks those minds and bodies weren’t built to perform.