S. Africa control 3rd test; Australia complain about fans

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David Warner is bowled by Kagiso Rabada on the second day of the third cricket test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, March 23. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)
David Warner is bowled by Kagiso Rabada on the second day of the third cricket test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, March 23. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Cape Town, South Africa (AP) — Kagiso Rabada should have taken center stage on Friday in the match he nearly didn’t appear in, smashing out David Warner’s off stump as South Africa pushed ahead in the crucial third test against Australia.

Instead, the cricket was overshadowed once again in a series brimming full of unsavory incidents — most of them off the field.

Australia coach Darren Lehmann said after the second day’s play that they were lodging an official complaint with the South African cricket body, claiming several of his players were targeted for verbal abuse by home fans at Newlands. The abuse included references to players’ families, Lehmann said, and he called it “disgraceful.”

One of those incidents was caught on television, when Warner, having been sent packing by Rabada, was confronted by a fan and allegedly verbally abused as he headed up the stadium stairs to the team dressing room.

“It was personal and it was poor and he wasn’t the only one,” Lehmann said of the Warner incident. “They’ve (the fans) gone too far here. We’ve written to Cricket South Africa … we’ll see their response, but it’s been poor. We’ll see what happens, hopefully something.”

Cricket series are often fiercely-contested between these two archrivals, but this one has plunged to new depths of ill-feeling.

Warner and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock almost came to blows in a heated off-field confrontation near the dressing rooms in the first test. Rabada was banned, and then overturned his ban, for aggressive and over-the-top celebrations in the second game. Two South African cricket officials were suspended during the second test for apparently supporting fans who chose to taunt Warner over a previous sexual encounter his wife had with a professional rugby player.

Numerous fans were ejected from Newlands on the first two days of the third game this week.

“We can’t control that, unfortunately,” South Africa bowler Morne Morkel said of fan behavior. “When we play in Australia … I’ve got the same sort of abuse.”

Like Rabada, Morkel lost some of the limelight he deserved because of the fan issues.

He claimed four Australian wickets on Day 2, including his 300th in test cricket. That helped keep Australia to 245-9 in their first innings, 66 runs behind South Africa’s 311 in a test where the winner can’t lose the series.

Having dramatically overturned a two-test ban in the week before the game, Rabada won his latest on-field tussle with Warner and took 3-81.

It might have been even better for South Africa if tailender Nathan Lyon hadn’t launched an adventurous counterattack for Australia, when he thumped 47 off 38 balls in a 66-run partnership for the ninth wicket with Tim Paine (33 not out).

Still, on 266-8 overnight and tottering themselves, the South Africans wouldn’t have imagined they’d hold such a solid lead with one wicket to get.

Rabada played a major role with ball and bat.

First, he was part of a late 50-run stand for South Africa that took the home team past 300. Opener Dean Elgar batted through the innings for his 141 not out and Rabada hung around for 22 useful runs.

Rabada and Morkel then combined to subdue Australia’s batsmen after opener Warner raced to 30 off 14 balls, hitting all of his five fours and a six off Rabada. Fellow opener Cameron Bancroft made a stoical 77.

Rabada’s strike to get Warner was the big early blow that set the tone for South Africa, though.

It came after Warner hit three successive fours off Rabada in one over. In the next, he hooked a huge six over the backward square leg boundary. The ball needed to be recovered from a roof of one of the stands by a man using a crutch.

Warner sliced the next delivery for another four, but was out the ball after when Rabada tightened his line and smashed the off stump out the ground.

The Australians were going at nearly six runs an over in the first session, due mainly to Warner. That run rate was reined in as Rabada and Morkel went to work, while Vernon Philander pitched in with 2-26.

Morkel, who will retire from internationals at the end of the series, captured Shaun Marsh for No. 300 in tests and celebrated the milestone excitedly as his career approaches the end. He broke out of a team huddle to pump his fists and then looked up at the sky.

He is the fifth South African to reach 300 test wickets.

Morkel also finally put a stop to Lyon’s antics at the end of the day, which threatened to erase South Africa’s position of dominance. Lyon swung lustily to hit eight fours in his highest score in tests.