'Great decision for series and Test cricket'
South Africa are "extremely satisfied" with the lowering of the sanction against their premier fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, for two reasons. The obvious one is that Rabada is now cleared to play and will take his place in the XI at Newlands; the other is that the hosts feel vindicated that what they saw as inconsistent application of the ICC's code of the conduct has been rectified.
"The decision itself is great for the series and for Test cricket," Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, said. "The team is extremely satisfied with the decision. We believe KG never deliberately charged Steven Smith with his shoulder."
Moosajee was among those who attended the six-hour hearing on Monday and though he could not go into the specifics of the arguments made by Rabada's advocate Dali Mpofu, Moosajee indicated South Africa could have opened a door to discussions around the code. "There were key learnings for everybody. It will stimulate healthy debate," Moosajee said. "We may have to look at things around processes, independent judicial commissions, words in the code of conduct manual."
South Africa have taken this stance before, when Faf du Plessis appealed against a ball-tampering verdict in late 2016. Then, South Africa asked for clarity over what constituted an artificial substance as it relates to shining the ball. Du Plessis was unsuccessful and continues to have three demerit points attached to his record. Earlier in this series. Quinton de Kock contested the sanction of a Level 1 charge for conduct that went against the spirit of the game during his stairwell saga with David Warner. On that occasion, South Africa were seeking to have the "line" explicitly defined in terms of what kinds of comments are considered personal. De Kock was also unsuccessful.
Now, Rabada and South Africa have succeeded, and there is an undertone they will continue to call for consistency in the application of the code. "We have raised issues in the past around, not the code of conduct per se, but the inconsistent application of the code of conduct," Moosajee said. "In this case, it wasn't particularly raised but it has been raised prior to this case."
At the same time, South Africa also want Rabada to understand the limits within which he must celebrate. While continuing to encourage Rabada to remain aggressive, South Africa have asked him to be more mindful. "We do understand KG is quite a fiery character on the field but there are rules and regulations that govern conduct on the field," Moosajee said. "Like every other player, this applies to KG as well and he is well aware of it. He is the first to admit he must take better responsibility and better handle his positive and aggressive celebration and not to get careless, nor be disrespectful."
Chief on Rabada's checklist when he takes his next wicket will be to ensure he gets out of the batsmen's space to avoid making any contact. "He is not a badly behaved kid, he's just very excited and exuberant sometimes," Ottis Gibson, South Africa's coach, said. "When you're playing against the best team in the world, sometimes that comes out of you. In all the stuff that he did, there was no aggressive intent other than celebrating a wicket. But we've made him aware of the batsman's space and where his space needs to be. He must get away from the batsman and continue to celebrate."
Gibson hopes Rabada will not be drawn into any more controversy, especially as he is only one demerit point away from a ban and Australia previously made public their intention to prey on him. "They might do (provoke Rabada) but he is a smart kid and I'm sure he learnt his lesson from what happened last week and I don't expect that he will make the same mistake again," Gibson said.
For their part, Australia have only expressed an eagerness to face Rabada again. "As Australian cricketers we always want to play against the best players in the world and KG is the No.1 bowler in the world," Nathan Lyon said. "It's going to be another great challenge for all of us. The ICC has made their decision and we respect them, that's their job. We got no dramas with it."
And so, with the drama over for now, all Rabada needs to focus on is his performance. He trained with the team on Monday, after the marathon hearing, and again on Tuesday. Gibson provided assurance that the events of the last week have not taken a toll on Rabada's mind. "He's a very strong character. He came (to training) after six hours in a courtroom, as you call it, yesterday and all he wanted to do was practice. That's what the guy loves doing," Gibson said. "He has been made very much aware of his responsibility going forward, not just to himself but to the team as well."
Rabada's availability has also boosted team morale, with Gibson saying it has "lifted everybody" and simplified team selection. South Africa added fast bowlers Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris to the squad as cover for Rabada but neither are likely to be needed for the next match, and may be released as early as Wednesday to play in the final round of first-class matches.
All that remains is for South Africa to decide whether there is room in the XI for Morne Morkel, who is playing in his last series and is three wickets away from 300, though he may be a better fit for the fourth Test at the Wanderers. Asked if he has some sympathy for Morkel being sidelined, Gibson maintained South Africa will not select on emotion. "Morne is also in line for selection for this week," Gibson said. "I am sure whichever way we go… he has got two more opportunities. Sympathy I am not sure, because it's international sport and we are trying to win a series and we will try and pick the best team to do that. He is still very much part of our plans for the next two Tests."
The other consideration is whether to play the fit-again Temba Bavuma or give Theunis de Bruyn another chance. South Africa may also choose to bench a batsmen in favour of a four-pronged pace attack.
All just cricketing issues, which Gibson hopes will take centre-stage for the rest of the series.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent