What were you doing when you were 15? Perhaps not playing cricket at the U-19 level on a global stage as South Africa’s Kwena Maphaka.
At the 2022 U-19 World Cup, Maphaka was just 15, and it didn’t for one second hinder the left-arm pacer’s ability to run through batters, with seven wickets in three games, averaging 18.28.
Maphaka is now 17.
And it still hasn’t stopped the world from taking notice of the sizzling left-arm pacer, who blew batters in his age group completely out of water. In the ongoing U-19 World Cup, Maphaka leads the bowling charts with 21 wickets, averaging 9.71, with three-fers in just six games. Across both tournaments, Maphaka picked up 28 wickets, the joint-most in its history.
The last time a South African pacer captured the Proteas faithful's attention was in 2014 when a certain 18-year-old Kagiso Rabada ran through batting units to finish with 14 wickets in the tournament.
Miles away in Australia, South Africa’s then analyst, Prasanna Agoram, who was five years old into his job, took notice of the talent. It didn’t take long for Prasanna to make all the necessary calls to facilitate Rabada's fast-tracking into the Proteas setup.
A 19-year-old Rabada didn’t disappoint Prasanna’s talent-scouting to one bit when he picked up a hattrick on his ODI debut. Ten years down the road, Prasanna has a sense of deja vu and believes that Maphaka has all the required skillsets to be the Rabada re-gen.
“To be very honest, Kwena Maphaka is a clone of Rabada; he has a beautiful run-up, he has a great running technique and is quick as well, I can see him emulating what Rabada has done for South Africa in the future,” former Cricket South Africa analyst Prasanna told Cricket.com.
So, how does Prasanna scout these youngsters even before they make it large at the world level?
“For me, it is very simple. Fast bowling is the toughest art in cricket; it is injury-prone. The most important thing for a pace bowler is whether he has the smooth action to bowl quickly. Right from the running technique to the rhythm technique, the loading point, backfoot stride, front foot stride, delivery stride, release point and your follow-through, you need everything to be for someone to bowl 140+ consistently,” Prasanna notes what are the boxes that a budding pacer has to tick to pass his test.
At 16, Prasanna first took notice of the Johannesburg-born Maphaka, who fizzed the ball past South African skipper Temba Bavuma’s lid at the Lions nets. That is one of the trademark things that convinced Prasanna of a real pace-bowling talent, similar to when he spotted Shamar Joseph.
If that wasn’t enough, Maphaka also showed him tremendous control with the seam, moving it into and away from the right-handed Bavuma. While the entire world was sleeping on the youngster, Prasanna took him under the wings and identified his potential.
“You have to see the person when they are nobody, that’s my technique. The guy always wants to learn, when we were doing a T20 match simulation, I asked him to bowl a slower delivery, and he came and asked me if I wanted him to bowl an off-cutter or a knuckleball,” Prasanna recalled the moment when Maphaka left him stunned.
When he heard the words ‘knuckleball’ from a 16-year-old, it sealed the deal for him. But that wasn’t to take away Maphaka’s strength, which still lies in the ball that swings back into the right-hander, putting the batters in a spot of bother.
“As a left-arm seamer, your most potent delivery in your armoury is to bring the ball back into the right-hander. It is the most difficult thing for a right-hander, that’s where Starc, Boult, and Zaheer have excelled. Let me tell you, the ball coming into the right-hander will trouble them, not the one going away,” he added.
Unfortunately, for the cricket enthusiasts, there was no speed gun at the ongoing U-19 World Cup in South Africa, but Prasanna, who has been privy to watching Maphaka in the nets, stamps down that the pacer can clock 140+ kmph consistently.
“The few balls that zip over the batters’ shoulders and hit the net ferociously, I get scared to stand behind in the nets when Maphaka is bowling at full throttle. I’m not worried about the speed gun; I can tell you that he can clock 140+ consistently without the smallest of doubts,” he adds.
Maphaka’s ability to bowl a mean bouncer was on display at the U-19 World Cup when he removed Windies’ skipper Stephen Pascal in the opening fixture and later also bowled a lethal bouncer to Indian opener Adarsh Singh off the first ball in the semi-final against India.
“The most important thing as a teenager is that you tend to get carried away when you know you are quick and can trouble the batter with short balls. That’s where the bowling coach and performance analyst will come into play; they must help him set batters up,” Prasanna stated.
During his time as the analyst, Prasanna had a few battles to fight, but none was easier than convincing the selectors back then to include a young and raw Rabada into the South African setup. It is in Prasanna’s ethos to throw the talented bowlers into the deep end without delaying their talent too much by making them play at the domestic level.
“You know where these guys will belong at the highest level only if they are thrown into the deep end. If you ask me, I will certainly throw him into international cricket against a lighter opponent, or probably in Test cricket, where you have a cushion to recover,” Prasanna was adamant in favour of Maphaka getting a chance at the senior level.
“You will waste two years of his life playing domestic cricket. He can play both international cricket and domestic cricket at the same time,” he had to add.
It wasn’t the first time or the last time Prasanna would throw his weight behind such selections, with the former analyst hell-bent on the Proteas giving the then 18-year-old Dewald Brevis an international cap. He believes the selectors should try out the left-arm pacer in a slightly under-pressure clash to know the weight of his talent.
“If he comes out well, it will be a plus; if he doesn’t, I will get to know where he has to work. If you feel that the bowler was too good for the U-19 level, there is no point in putting him back into the domestic setup, where he will end up eating the batters,” he insisted.
“Put him in the bigger challenge to see where he stands. Had I been part of the Proteas setup, he would have at least been part of the setup. I would have put a lot of pressure by now, and he would have made his mark in at least one of the formats for sure.”
Maphaka is just 17, but his consistent display at the age-group level has already forced Paarl Royals to sign an SA20 contract quicker than the others.
It wasn’t just that.
When a pacer captures the imagination of someone of Ian Bishop’s calibre, that’s when you know that the world is Maphaka’s oyster.
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