Rabada blows away Australia in what might be his last act

Australia's Mitchell Marsh at the wicket on the third day of the second cricket test between South Africa and Australia at St. George's Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Sunday, March 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Sheehan)

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) Kagiso Rabada tore through Australia in another spell of furious fast-bowling on Monday to put South Africa level in the series in what’s likely to be his final act of the series.

The 22-year-old fast bowler took his match total to 11 wickets with 6-54 in Australia’s second innings, opening the fourth day by blasting out Mitchell Marsh’s off stump in the first over to set up South Africa’s six-wicket win at St. George’s Park.

Yet Rabada went from main attraction and man-of-the-match in Port Elizabeth to a no-show for the final two tests of a tense series in Cape Town and Johannesburg after he was found guilty of two disciplinary charges for aggressive celebrations of Australian wickets and banned for two tests.

The first charge, for bumping into Australia captain Steve Smith after getting him out in the first innings earned Rabada the two-test ban after he crossed a threshold for disciplinary demerit points. Rabada contested that charge but was still found guilty. He pleaded guilty to another charge of screaming in the face of David Warner after dismissing him in the second innings.

”I’ve let myself down and let the team down,” Rabada said, calling his man-of-the-match performance at St. George’s Park ”bittersweet.”

Rabada took the first three wickets of the fourth day to hurry the Australians out for 239 and another batting failure in their second innings.

South Africa clinched its win by chasing down the meager target of 101 before tea on the fourth day. It wasn’t straightforward, with Australia removing Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in quick succession to have the South Africans 81-4.

South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis took control to see his team home with Theunis de Bruyn.

The South African victory stops Australia’s momentum from a win in the first test in Durban and gives the home team a chance of a first home series win over the Aussies since 1970.

”That’s an incredible test match for us. Especially after what was a tough loss in Durban,” du Plessis said.

Australia has been dominant in South Africa since the end of apartheid, winning five series and drawing its other two.

But, not for the first time, the tables turned dramatically in a series between the two closely-match teams. This time, Australia’s batsmen couldn’t stand up to South Africa’s quicks – particularly Rabada. In the first test, Australia’s Mitchell Starc and co. blasted out South Africa.

”The middle order obviously didn’t do their job and we lost wickets in clumps,” Australia captain Smith said. ”Rabada bowled exceptionally well throughout the whole match. We haven’t got a hundred so far this series so that’s not ideal. If we’re getting batters scoring hundreds it obviously helps us a hell of a lot.”

Rabada’s early blitz ensured Australia, 180-5 overnight, didn’t get many more in its second innings.

Marsh was out sixth ball of the day, with the Australian swearing at Rabada as he walked off in another unsavory incident in one of the most ill-tempered cricket series in recent memory. Marsh was guilty of misconduct for that indiscretion, too.

Rabada, who kept his aggression under control on Monday – although it’s too late for that – also dismissed Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc as the Australians folded in less than 10 overs of the fourth day.

Rabada’s 6-54 followed his 5-96 in the first innings and it was his fourth 10-wicket haul in tests.

It’s taken Rabada 28 tests to get those four 10-wicket hauls, an impressive record which underlines the talent of the young quick. In comparison, Dale Steyn has five 10-wicket hauls but in 86 test matches. South Africa great Allan Donald only had three 10-wicket hauls in his 72-test career.

The match figures of 11-150 were the second-best by a South African against Australia and the best against the Aussies at home.

But Rabada’s disciplinary record is becoming a major problem for South Africa, both in this series and for future contests, and the team needs to deal with if it’s not going to lose him regularly to bans. He served a one-test ban in England last year after swearing at Ben Stokes when he got him out.

”It’s going to have to stop. I’m letting the team down,” Rabada said. ”I won’t change the way I express myself. I will just get far away from the batter.”

South Africa had faint hopes of keeping Rabada in the series after the team said it was considering an appeal against the ICC decision. Precious few appeals against ICC disciplinary decisions succeed, though. South Africa has never had one success.

”Our strike rate is zero percent at the moment (in disciplinary appeals),” South Africa captain du Plessis said. ”It’ll probably stay at zero percent.”