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Why Virat Kohli is unlikely to get banned for his Cape Town outburst, and why it’s different to Kagiso Rabada’s celebration ban

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 15 minute read

India, led by Virat Kohli, made their displeasure at the outcome of a review by Dean Elgar clear on the third evening of the third South Africa-India Test.

Elgar was given out lbw and reviewed, but was walking off the pitch until ball-tracking projected that the ball would have cleared the stumps. Standing umpire Marais Erasmus expressed his surprise at the projection, and India were incensed. Kohli bent down and shouted into the stump-mic, with R Ashwin, Mayank Agarwal, and KL Rahul all making their unhappiness felt.

“Focus on your team as well when they shine the ball, not just the opposition, trying to catch people all the time,” Kohli shouted in a message seemingly directed at the host broadcaster. They were also the target for Ashwin’s ire.

“You should find better ways to win, SuperSport,” he said.

Rahul said that this was the “whole country playing against 11 guys,” while Agarwal reportedly said, “Not good, you are making the sport look bad now, making the sport look bad.”

Kohli also criticised DRS directly. “Well done DRS, very well done,” he said, sarcastically. “Certainly conducting a fair game here DRS.”

There were calls for Kohli to be banned for his outburst, but there are a few things working in the India captain’s favour which mean he and his teammates are likely to avoid significant punishment.

First, none of them have active demerit points on their record. These are expunged after a two-year period, with Kohli copping his last in 2019. The vast majority of sanctions handed out are of a level one offence, which carry at most two demerit points. A cumulative four demerit points add up to one suspension point, equivalent to a one-match ban for an ODI or a T20I. T20 suspension points equate to a Test ban.

Directing their ire at the host broadcaster might also help India’s cause. It’s plausible, but unlikely, that Kohli could be reprimanded under article 2.7 of the code of conduct, ‘Public criticism of, or inappropriate comment in relation to an incident occurring in an International Match or any…Player Support Personnel…participating in any International Match’. This is, at most, a level two offence, and has only been used twice by the ICC since 2016, once against Belgium’s Mamoon Latif, for advancing at an opposition batter and swearing, and once against then-West Indies coach Stuart Law, for using obscene language and calling India’s Ajinkya Rahane a “cheat” as he walked past the fourth umpire.

However, Kohli’s criticism of DRS, and his implicit suggestion that the host broadcaster should watch out for how South Africa “shine the ball”, could land him in hot water. The latter could be a reference to the 2018 ball-tampering scandal, when footage from SuperSport helped finger Cameron Bancroft for using sandpaper to attempt to alter the condition of the ball. A suggestion that South Africa are cheating could see Kohli punished similarly to Law, though perhaps with a reduced sanction because of the obscured nature of the claim, and because of the lack of obscenity. Law received three demerit points, still not enough to add up to a suspension point.

Kohli could also be punished under article 2.8, “showing dissent at an umpire’s decision during an international match”. His references to DRS make this arguably clear cut, but even “excessive, obvious disappointment with an Umpire’s decision” is enough to warrant sanction. However, while a level two sanction is theoretically possible for an offence under article 2.8, the ICC have only handed out level one sanctions since 2016.

There is a catch-all article in the code of conduct, article 2.20, which relates to “conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game”, but this has not been used since 2016 by the ICC.

There have been comparisons made to Kagiso Rabada’s ban for shouting near Joe Root after dismissing the England captain during a Test in 2020. However, while Kohli and Rabada both adopted similar poses for their outbursts, there are several key differences. First, Rabada’s ban was for an accumulation of demerit points, of which Kohli has none.

Secondly, Rabada’s offence fitted squarely within the code of conduct as it is written. There is an article specifically relating to actions after dismissing a batter, article 2.5, which concerns “using language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batter upon his/her dismissal during an international match”. This is an article which has been criticised in the past for its vague nature, but while it arguably applies to Rabada, it’s hard to argue that Kohli’s actions fit the bill.

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