Remorseful Rabada slapped with series-ending ban
KAGISO Rabada has apologised for letting down his country after the fast bowler's series-changing suspension left South Africa madly scrambling for a replacement spearhead for the deciding Tests.
Faf du Plessis is virtually resigned to Dale Steyn not making a timely comeback from a heel injury either, meaning the captain's bowling plans are in complete disarray for next week's blockbuster in Cape Town, just as his side had gained momentum in a six-wicket win in Port Elizabeth.
No sooner had the ink dried on Rabada's scintillating 11-wicket man-of-the-match demolition of Australia, he had come to terms that it was also his final act for the series.
The world's No.1 quick with the best strike rate of any young bowler to play the game, is suddenly gone. The void he leaves is monumental.
Keeping in theme with South Africa's recent track record of refusing to accept any decision by match officials, the Proteas are still taking legal advice on whether they could appeal Rabada's two-game ban.
However, even the man himself knows it won't change what's been done.
ICC match referee Jeff Crowe said he took no pleasure from issuing the ban but added Rabada had 'breached the code of conducvt on a number of occasions'.
"I found that there was contact between Rabada and Smith, and in my judgement the contact by Rabada was inappropriate, and deliberate. He had the opportunity to avoid the contact, and I could not see any evidence to support the argument that the contact was accidental," he said.
"It is also disappointing that this has happened the day after the pre-match meeting I had with both teams, where the importance of respect for opponents was highlighted."
Rabada expressed remorse for the mindless send-offs of Steve Smith - which included shoulder contact - and David Warner that have left the Proteas attack without the world's most damaging force.
"It's going to have to stop. I can't keep doing this because I'm letting the team down and I'm also letting myself down," Rabada said.
"Coming off a performance like that, I felt really good. I've let the team down.
"I have to move forward … see it as a big learning curve and not repeat the same mistake because I've repeated the same mistake in the eyes of the umpires. I'm not happy about it."
Rabada's 11-wicket masterclass took him above Allan Donald and Makhaya Ntini for most 10-wicket bags for South Africa, and from just 28 matches he is only one short of Steyn (with five) who has played nearly triple the games.
But in 18 months he has been charged five times for disciplinary breaches, including two in the Port Elizabeth Test that have rubbed him out for the deciding matches of the series in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
It would appear Morne Morkel will bounce straight back from being dropped to assume Rabada's place at the head of the attack.
Du Plessis admits he would desperately love Steyn at his disposal in Cape Town, but doesn't have a clue where the 400-wicket-taking all-time great is.
"I'm not 100% sure where Dale is. He needed to play a game this week, which he didn't, which will probably set him back for the third Test," du Plessis said.
"I would be praying extra hard that we can have him available. On the spot now I would assume only the fourth Test."
Rabada and du Plessis have both argued that the ICC is inconsistent with the way it hands down its disciplinary charges - and tried to present a bizarre argument to match referee Jeff Crowe that Rabada shouldn't get banned because Warner didn't last week.
It's a similar logic to what motivated them to fight du Plessis' 'mint-gate' ball tampering charge two summers ago, as they based that defence on their insistence that all teams were doing the same thing.
Rabada says he only challenged Crowe's decision to sanction him for shouldering past Smith during a first-innings send-off, because it was an accidental incident.
The big fast bowler screamed in Smith's face but never meant to bump him.
Rabada said he won't seek anger management counselling.
"I won't change the way I express myself," he said.
"But I'll just get far away from the batter.
"If I knew I did it deliberately, then I wouldn't have gone in to contest. Honestly, I didn't even feel the contact in that moment, because I was so pumped up."
Du Plessis' cries to Crowe to keep Rabada in the series fell on deaf ears.
The South African skipper admits that Rabada needs to "be smarter" as his praise for the young superstar's talent summed up just how much the Proteas will miss his game-breaking abilities when the series goes on the line in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
"A lot has been said about how amazing KG's rise is, best strike rate in world cricket at the moment or ever," he said.
"So I don't think you have to say too much more.
"To have him in your side as a captain is a huge pleasure.
"The skill he has to make the ball talk in both directions.
"Both teams have very high-class reverse swing bowlers, but what makes KG so special is he does it both ways at pace, and he doesn't give a lot of bad balls away.
"And I honestly think he will get better, so I'm really excited to see what happens in his future."