Australia captain Steven Smith has declared that the Kagiso Rabada appeal verdict sets a troubling standard for allowable physical contact in the game. He also indicated that Australia's long-time policy of not contesting the charges of ICC match referees may well change after South Africa's successful legal challenge.
Clearly surprised by the outcome, Smith questioned why he had not been asked for his version of events as the other party in the incident, for which the match referee Jeff Crowe had found Rabada guilty of making "inappropriate and deliberate" physical contact with the batsman after dismissing him on day one of the Port Elizabeth Test. Either way, Smith said a precedent had been set.
"The ICC have set the standard, haven't they? There was clearly contact out in the middle," Smith said in Cape Town ahead of Thursday's third Test. "I certainly won't be telling my bowlers to go out there and after you take a wicket go and get in their space. I don't think that is on and part of the game.
"I certainly think he bumped me a little bit harder than it actually looked on the footage. It didn't bother me too much. I guess the emotion after you get out you don't really … he's won the battle. What's the point of over-celebrating? And getting in the face of a batter, you've already won the battle. But they've obviously decided what's deliberate contact and what's not, and apparently it wasn't."
Since 2011, Australia have only once asked for a hearing to contest a sanction, ironically for physical contact between Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes when Crowe was also presiding as match referee, and chose to drop the charges against both players for their mid-pitch collision during the 2013 Adelaide Test. However, Smith said the Rabada case had changed the landscape considerably, both in terms of allowing physical contact and opening up the possibility of further challenges.
"You always want your best players available to play so maybe, particularly now that we know people can get off, that's for sure. That's a possibility in the future," Smith said. "They obviously appealed this one and it looked like a pretty long process in the courtroom. But if you see guys getting off then perhaps guys will appeal a bit more in the future to try and get off certain things."
"I think we've played in a pretty good spirit the last game and again it's about continuing to play our hard, aggressive brand and making sure we stay within the parameters of the game."
Looking at the code of conduct process, Smith said he was mystified as to why he was never called to give his account of the confrontation.
"The other person involved not getting asked about it is pretty interesting, I thought," Smith said. "You still want to come up against the best players. That's part of playing the game and Kagiso is No.1 in the world. It was interesting the way things played out and that he was able to get the charge brought down with an appeal."
South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis was at the hearing and said it was a fair process, before quipping that "I wish I had this judge with me in Australia," in reference to his previous unsuccessful appeal of a ball-tampering charge in 2016 and the New Zealand QC Michael Heron, who overturned Rabada's ban. "I think it's really good for the game, I don't see a problem where a neutral guy sits and makes a decision and listens to both parties.
"I was there and said to our people that even if we didn't win the case I was very impressed with the judge and how he listened to both sides. He was very fair in the questions he asked. I think the process is good. You should have a platform if you feel you haven't done something wrong, and have someone who sits in the middle and has a fair, objective point of view of listening to both sides and making a decision. "
Du Plessis also disputed Smith's contention that he should have been called to give evidence. "He wasn't charged, if he was charged probably he would have been asked, KG was charged so he's defending himself," du Plessis said. "The judge has to decide if he sees it as intentional. Nothing I was going to say was going to have any impact on that, I wasn't even needed to talk. His decision was made on the deciding factor if it was on purpose or not."
Having already met with the incoming match referee Andy Pycroft for the final two Tests of this series, Smith said he would seek further clarification of the appeal decision, and stated that Crowe had the right to feel "annoyed" that his deliberations had been cast aside by the appeals commissioner Michael Heron.
"The way he handled both sides throughout the two Test matches, I thought he did a terrific job," Smith said of Crowe. "I'd be feeling a bit annoyed if I was him, to be perfectly honest.
"A new match referee coming in so he wanted to have a chat with the senior players so myself, Davey and Nathan Lyon. I think he's going to chat to Faf [du Plessis], AB [de Villiers] and Hashim [Amla] as well. Just to ensure that the series is continued to be played in pretty good spirit.
"I thought it was pretty good last game, after couple of isolated incidents in the first Test match and just to make sure cricket is still the winner. I might have a chat to him around what's gone on. Obviously they've deemed the contact not to be deliberate and set the line in the sand of what is appropriate and what's not. We'll see what he has to say."
As for the "hacked" tweet from the account of Vernon Philander, Smith described claims that he had tried to "draw the contact" from Rabada as "a load of garbage". However, he said he would ensure his players stayed in line at Newlands, after Cameron Bancroft had indicated the tweet may be used as material with which to go after Philander.
"I think that's a bit over the top," Smith said. "I was just going down to chat to Shaun [Marsh]. I had just been given out. So trying to see whether I could find a way to still be out in the middle. Unfortunately, I couldn't. I think that's all a load of garbage to be honest.
"I think we've played in a pretty good spirit the last game and again it's about continuing to play our hard, aggressive brand and making sure we stay within the parameters of the game. Hopefully, we can do that and get ourselves up 2-1 in the series."