Back in 2015, when Heinrich Klaasen wasn’t around and Hardik Pandya hadn’t yet become a Test cricketer, South Africa, still with AB De Villiers, endured a humiliating tour to India. In the four-match series, the only Test they lost by the daintiest margin was a 108-run drubbing that came at Mohali.
Making his debut at the iconic I.S. Bindra stadium, was a young 19-year-old fast bowler who seemed to have an express pace- quality about him. In the entire Test, the young bowling neophyte clinched a solitary wicket. Against a sharply incoming delivery to which Virat Kohli had to answer, Dean Elgar collected a regulation catch at slips. The scorecard, in the first inning, flashed “Virat Kohli: caught Elgar bowled Rabada”.
A young fast bowler who none knew cut short the stay of world’s best batsman who spent merely 4 balls and some ten minutes at the crease.
Kagiso Rabada’s first sign of success carried a grandiose flavour
A few Test cricket summers thereafter, around nearly 690 overs and 61 maiden overs later, Kagiso Rabada keenly awaited India in South Africa.
This would be no ordinary tour.
Bowling straight with far nippier pace than witnessed in his maiden series, as if aided by a bowling machine-induced accuracy, Kagiso Rabada, single-handedly gunned down 15 Indian wickets from just 3 Tests.
This was a cricketing summer that belonged to Virat Kohli’s blade and the young South African bowler’s guile.
A well-rounded bowling action wrought by a rhythmic build-up to the popping crease, Rabada was pretty much the antithesis of a Virat-powered India, seemingly planting seeds of hope to what promises to be among the contemporary. T2o-plied age’s most ferocious battles.
A world of expectation from Rabada in absence of Morkel and ever-injured Steyn
Interestingly, Kagiso Rabada’s bloom amid a time of sudden blemish for South Africa- given Morkel’s retirement and Dale Steyn casting but a modicum of danger post his long-drawn battle with injuries- reinstitute the faith in South African bowling.
While on the one hand, the feeling of heading for the biggest sporting carnival in the World Cup (2019) minus the experienced Morkel and a Steyn who’s yet to mount a comeback can be a task onerous enough to sink mightiest of warships given the sense of occasion, Rabada can float gently with a few positives.
Up first, what augurs well for Rabada’s rise is that he’s blossoming amid the mighty presence of the ‘Big Vern’ (Philander).
But, above all, a great factor that certainly ups the confidence of Rabada- it could be argued- is the sheer weight of faith his captain Du Plessis places on his choicest weapon of destruction.
A keen, if not the most disciplined learner of the game, in just 3 years of playing, Rabada has sculpted a modern-legend of his, fuelled by temperamental outbursts, spiked by vitriolic outbursts and polished by a grit that cast him as a fiery, uncompromising modern-age cricketer.
In an age, no stranger to trolls and memes, Rabada’s championing of series wins, most famous among them being 2016’s Perth heroics that included a 7-for, have portrayed him as a bloke who’s as capricious a cricketer as conniving an evil for teams that still seem susceptible to fast bowling of fast decks.
Make no mistake, it’s not that Rabada cannot be sliced for runs.
The classic theory warrants that attack often is the best form of defence.
And often, batsmen operating with a sense of cunning tend to use a bowler’s pace to make their way into the gaps finding runs, something that Pujara and Kohli did pretty often in 2018’s series.
Despite collecting 75 ODI wickets and 143 Test wickets already, when faced with obdurate batsmen; showmen of skill such as Kohli and Williamson, against whom the young pacer has played no more than two Test series, Rabada has been somewhat decoded by batters playing him on the front foot.
But to collect easy runs of Kagiso Rabada- gifted with a knack of picking wickets early- might only seem doable on a computer game.
What warrants respect for the young promising pacer is a respectable economy of 8 in T20s, 5.1 in ODIs and 3.3 in Tests.
With time clearly being on his side at 23 and having already cast dark clouds with his potent combination of pace and bounce, Kagiso Rabada is South Africa’s answer to a shiny beacon of modern fast bowlers, including Matt Henry, Jasprit Bumrah, Shanon Gabriel, Hasan Ali and, Pat Cummins.
As the contemporary structure of the game prepares to endure more truncated runs, England strangely considering adoption of 100-ball format with T20s already stealing the thunder of longer formats, what might make sense for Rabada would be to throw some caution to the winds. To calm down those raging nerves and throbbing veins and find ways of eschewing injuries to go the long distance in the game.