Precociously talented Rabada Proteas’ key weapon in cricket showpiece

  • Twenty-four-year-old pacer is regarded as a potential game-changer

May 25, 2019-

In a World Cup expected to be dominated by batsmen, South Africa hope to buck the trend with a bowling attack led by the precociously talented Kagiso Rabada.

Rabada has topped the International Cricket Council’s bowler rankings in both Tests and one-day internationals, making the paceman one of South Africa’s key figures at the World Cup. Able to bowl at speeds close to 93 miles per hour with a languid action, swinging the ball in both directions and delivering pinpoint yorkers almost at will, Rabada is captain Faf du Plessis’ go-to man when South Africa desperately need a wicket.

Rabada turns 24 on May 25—just five days before his team’s clash with England in the tournament opener at the Oval—but he is already experienced enough to be regarded as a potential World Cup game-changer. As a standard-bearer for a multiracial South African team, Rabada does not fit easily into the stereotypical narrative of black players emerging from under-privileged backgrounds to make an impact.

Makhaya Ntini, South Africa’s first great black cricketer, took 390 wickets in Tests and 266 in ODIs after being spotted playing soft-ball mini-cricket at the start of a journey from a rural village to international fame. Rabada, by contrast, is the son of a medical doctor and a qualified lawyer, who lived in an affluent suburb north of Johannesburg. He was sent to one of the country’s most expensive and exclusive schools, St Stithians College, a leading cricket nursery.

“I saw that my parents worked quite hard and then achieved a lot, so I didn’t feel like at any time I struggled,” Rabada said in an early interview. “At the same time, I knew what it was like for people to struggle.” Rugby was his first sporting love but it was soon obvious he had cricketing ability as a swashbuckling left-handed batsman and raw fast bowler.

Wim Jansen, director of cricket at St Stithians, said Rabada always had raw pace but was inconsistent and bowled too many no-balls. “He was a quick learner and worked incredibly hard, and still does. His discipline, especially in terms of conditioning exercise, was incredible,” Jansen said.

Off the field, Rabada is calm, modest and matter-of-fact. On the field, though, he has incurred disciplinary action from match referees on four occasions in the past two years. “Most of the time I try to let the ball talk and not my mouth,” he said. “Here and there I will say the odd thing but I am definitely aggressive as a player.”

Rabada’s fitness is a worry after he had to withdraw from the Indian Premier League this year because of a back strain. He had taken 25 wickets in 12 matches for the Delhi Capitals following a gruelling international season in which he played in all South Africa’s five Test matches and 14 of 16 one-day internationals, leading to concern about his workload.

South African team management are hoping Rabada will be able to hit peak form again after a period of rest and rehabilitation, which included a month’s break from playing.

Published: 25-05-2019 15:26

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