South Africa have been dealt a colossal blow with paceman Kagiso Rabada suspended for the final two matches of the ongoing Test series against Australia.
Rabada was found guilty of deliberately making inappropriate contact with Australia captain Steve Smith on day one after an hour-long hearing with match referee Jeff Crowe at St George’s Park on Sunday night.
Having been charged with a Level 2 breach of the ICC Code of Conduct, the 22-year-old was fined 50 per cent of his match fee and handed three demerit points to take his total to eight, which equates to a two-Test ban.
However, Cricket South Africa and Rabada have 48 hours to appeal the decision by the ICC, an option they are seeking legal counsel on whether to explore.
If Rabada appeals he will remain suspended for the Cape Town Test unless a Judicial Commissioner is appointed early and hears an argument to allow him to complete whilst the hearing is being organised.
After taking the wicket of Smith in the afternoon session on Friday, Rabada found himself in hot water when he brushed shoulders with the touring skipper as he moved to celebrate with his teammates.
Crowe explained how he came to his decision in an ICC statement.
"I found that there was contact between Rabada and Smith, and in my judgement the contact by Rabada was inappropriate, and deliberate," Crowe said. "He had the opportunity to avoid the contact, and I could not see any evidence to support the argument that the contact was accidental.
"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.
"I take no pleasure in seeing a player suspended, particularly a young player of Kagiso’s talent, but he has now breached the ICC Code of Conduct on a number of occasions."
Smith said prior to the series his side would look to ‘fire up’ Rabada, who entered the four-match series with five demerit points on his disciplinary record and was just one serious incident away from suspension.
As it turned out, Rabada was his own worst enemy.
He followed up his nudge on Smith with by screaming in the face of David Warner after castling the Australia vice-captain yesterday, a send-off that has also seen him hit with a Level 1 offence, a 15 per cent fine of his match fee and an additional demerit point, taking his total to nine.
The loss of Rabada is seismic for the Proteas.
The right-armer has 15 wickets in the series including 11 here in Port Elizabeth, his fourth 10-wicket match haul in just his 28th Test.
To put that in perspective, Proteas legend Dale Steyn has five 10-wicket hauls in 86 matches.
Rabada has been charged four times by the ICC, two of which have been for send-offs, and it’s an area in which the 22-year-old needs to be "smarter", according to teammate AB de Villiers.
"He's got to be smarter and he knows that," said de Villiers.
"I don't know what is going to happen to him after this Test but if he is around for the next Test match I think he would have learned from his mistakes.
"There was a lot of emotion from that last Test match going into this one and once again as a fast bowler you want to prove things to people and you want to show everyone you belong on this stage."
De Villiers added: "I think it's up to some of our senior guys to just help him. It's important to some of the players to get around him before he close to a batter to tell him 'you know what? I just got you out'.
"That's what it basically comes down to except with more emotion. He wants to tell him 'I just won that battle'. I would've been the same."
Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith says Rabada’s past indiscretions have come back to haunt him.
"To lose a key player in the series through something like that is silly on his behalf," Smith told cricket.com.au. "Unfortunately, the incidents before are going to cost him on this one.
"You’ve got to manage yourself very well until that’s gone away. I do feel at times the stuff that’s he’s got before was uncalled for. I think the ICC has been a little bit harsh on him, a little bit lenient on other people.
"Consistency really needs to come into the game. Once you have any sort of bodily contact you’re under big pressure with the ICC."
Rabada's demerit point problems started 13 months ago when he was fined 50 per cent of his match fee and handed three demerit points for coming into avoidable contact with Sri Lanka batsman Niroshan Dickwella during a one-day international in Cape Town.
Five months later he was fined and given one demerit point for giving England allrounder Ben Stokes a send-off involving inappropriate language that could be heard over the stump microphones.
That brought his overall tally to four points and triggered an automatic suspension for one Test, which South Africa won in Nottingham, and was given another demerit point for a fiery send-off of India opener Shikhar Dhawan in a one-day international last month.
Rabada's disciplinary history
Feb 2017: Inappropriate and deliberate physical contact with Sri Lanka's Niroshan Dickwella. Three demerit points and fined 50 per cent of match fee.
July 2017: Used inappropriate language after dismissing England allrounder Ben Stokes. One demerit point and fined 15 per cent of match fee.Suspended one Test.
Feb 2018: Using language which could provoke an aggressive reaction from another player in send-off of India batsman Shikhar Dhawan. One demerit point and fined 15 per cent of match fee.
Mar 2018: Level-two charge for making physical contact with Steve Smith during a spirited send-off. Three demerit points and 50 per cent of match fee.
Mar 2018: Level one charge for send-off of David Warner. One demerit point and 15 per cent of match fee.
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard
Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage