By questioning the judicial process that cleared South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada to play in the third Test, Australia captain Steve Smith has provided another point of conflict in a combative series. Smith said in the lead-up to the third Test in Cape Town that Rabada's successful appeal against a two-Test ban was "interesting," and questioned why he, as the other person involved in the incident that led to Rabada's ban, was not invited to give his side of the story at the judicial hearing.
"The other person involved not getting asked about it is pretty interesting, I thought," Smith said.
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Rabada was banned for intentionally bumping into Smith after he got the Aussie skipper out in South Africa's series-levelling win in the second Test in Port Elizabeth.
Rabada and Cricket South Africa successfully appealed the verdict, arguing in a six-hour appeal hearing on Monday that the contact was not deliberate. Before the hearing, the South Africans themselves felt there was only a slim chance of success. So the decision surprised everyone, especially Smith.
"I certainly think he bumped me a little bit harder than it actually looked on the footage," Smith said. "I don't think that is on and part of the game. But the standard has been set."
South Africa, unsurprisingly, saw it differently. "We believe that it is the right decision at the end of the day," South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said. "He (Rabada) has been made aware of his on-field celebrations. I don't want to say behaviour because he is not a badly-behaved kid, he is just excitable and exuberant at times.
"When you are playing the best team in the world sometimes that will come out of you."
Smith's comments may again stoke the fires of an already-heated contest that boiled over in the first Test in Durban with an ugly off-field confrontation between Australia's David Warner and South Africa's Quinton de Kock.
After calls for calm, the ill-feeling re-emerged straightaway in Port Elizabeth, with Rabada twice charged for inappropriate and aggressive wicket celebrations. He pleaded guilty to screaming in the face of Warner after he got the Australia opener out, and appealed the Smith shoulder bump verdict down to a lesser offence - but an offence nevertheless - that cleared the way for him to play at Newlands this week.
Australia batsman Mitchell Marsh was also fined for swearing at Rabada in that second Test, which was only marginally better-behaved than the first game, which set a particularly low bar.
In all, five players have been summoned to disciplinary hearings and punished this series — three in Durban and two in Port Elizabeth — and the series is only halfway through.
While the contest, now 1-1, heads to Newlands, the most serene and picturesque of cricket venues, there's no indication it will become any more peaceful.
That's chiefly because neither side has shown any willingness to reign in its aggression.
Smith has said consistently that his Australia team will continue to play the "hard" brand of cricket that they feel is their best way to succeed. That includes the verbal jousting — or sledging — that has taken this series down an ugly road already.
It was Warner's persistent on-field taunting of de Kock that led to their confrontation on a stadium staircase in the first Test. South Africa hasn't been any better.
After both teams were warned about their conduct, Rabada couldn't - or didn't want to - control himself as he ran through the Australians, literally in Smith's case, in a man-of-the-match performance that was overshadowed by his over-the-top wicket celebrations.
"We expect the two teams to go hard at each other on the field and leave some of the off-field stuff off the field," South Africa coach Gibson said ahead of Newlands. It was said with more hope than expectation, maybe.