Keshav Maharaj claimed a hard-earned five-wicket haul © Stu Forster/Getty Images
It’s a thankless job. Keshav Maharaj‘s sixth career five-for came as a result of him bowling more overs than a South African has delivered in a home Test in 55 years and was also the most expensive by a South African bowler, ever.
It’s a thankless job. The second ban of Kagiso Rabada‘s career came as a result of a reaction that embodied the passion South Africa needed more of on a lifeless Port Elizabeth pitch. Now they will have to do without him, and all that he brings, for the series decider next week.
It’s a thankless job. Between them, Maharaj and Rabada, the saint and the sinner, did the hard work and showed the heart that should have set South Africa up for a strong second day at St George’s Park. But things fell apart as England posted the highest first-innings score by a visiting team at this venue since readmission, and laid down a challenge that South Africa’s batsmen have not shown themselves to be up to meeting in the last year.
Maharaj, in particular, needs the batsmen to do well. That’s what Paul Harris told ESPNcricinfo in the lead-up to this Test, when he explained that big runs will give Maharaj permission to be more aggressive.
Until then, he has to do the donkey work which, in this series, has meant holding an end almost all day. He sent down 30 overs on the trot from the Duck Pond End on day one, had two tough chances dropped, two reviews go against him and several close shaves for only one wicket. On day two, he served up a further 26 overs, but at least added four more scalps to his tally. The standout feature of Maharaj’s effort was his consistency. He bowled more deliveries on the stumps than in any other Test innings he has taken part in, which speaks to his discipline, even though that’s a trait that rarely makes headlines. Drama does, and that’s where Rabada comes in.
Ollie Pope and Ben Stokes added 203 for the fifth wicket © Stu Forster/Getty Images
Rabada’s dismissal of Joe Root gave South Africa a short-lived advantage post-tea on the first day, and sent a loud and long-awaited message that his desire was still there. Too loud. Rabada’s scream, which spewed out within spitting distance of the departing Root, could have been directed at the England captain but might have been aimed at the pitch, which had given him nothing all day. Either way, it constituted a breach of the ICC’s code of conduct, and whether or not everyone agrees with the decision, Rabada should have known better.
This was the fourth time in 24 months, and the sixth time in 36 months, that he has been found guilty of effectively the same offence. The four most recent transgressions (send-offs to Niroshan DIckwella, David Warner and Root, and a shoulder brush with Steve Smith) are why Rabada will miss the Johannesburg Test and there seems to be no explanation for why he would have risked that.
He knows the rules. He even knows the consequences because he was banned in 2017 when he told Ben Stokes to “f*** off”, at the culmination of a previous series of demerit points. That Rabada was less than a month away from the expiration of the Dickwella demerit point only makes his actions more reckless. He even knows that. Rabada has previously acknowledged that his “outbursts of emotion” may “let the team down.” And how.
South Africa do not have the luxury of losing players. They have already had two, Lungi Ngidi and Aiden Markram, ruled out of the series with injury; one, Temba Bavuma, dropped after recovering from a niggle and another, Vernon Philander, operating as a passenger in this attack. Philander only bowled 11 overs on day one and five on day two after it became obvious the slow pitch didn’t suit him, which only increased the burden on both Rabada and Maharaj.
Rabada had to make something happen, and his frustration with that difficulty showed in the celebration. Maharaj almost made something happen for an entire day, and his frustrations manifested in a lack of rewards initially and then a leaking of runs at the end. Ben Stokes was merciless against them both, bringing up his fifty off Rabada and 4,000 Test runs off Maharaj. Mark Wood made a mockery of them both, earning a reprieve off a no-ball before smashing Maharaj for successive sixes to grind South Africa down.
It’s thankless job. Maharaj who toiled for the best part of two days and conceded his runs at less than three an over, had his figures stretched out of shape by a late assault. Rabada, who knows he will not be able to have a say on the decider, denied himself the opportunity to make a final statement on this innings by completely unravelling, first when he was fielding at long-on and failed to see the chance Sam Curran offered and then with a four-over spell that cost 27 runs as England approached 500. That they didn’t quite get there doesn’t exactly constitute a job well done. It’s a thankless job.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo