How Rabada became the poster-boy of South African cricket

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25 May 2020 | 06:43 AM
authorAshish Pant

How Rabada became the poster-boy of South African cricket

On his 24th birthday, we look at how a young rugby-loving boy blossomed to become one of the best fast bowlers of the current generation

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There is little doubt that Kagiso Rabada has always been touted for greatness. From securing record-breaking figures of 6/16 on his ODI debut to being the youngest bowler ever to achieve the No.1 Test ranking at the age of 22, Rabada has already etched his name in the upper echelons of bowling greats.

On his 24th birthday, we look at how a young rugby-loving boy blossomed to become one of the best fast bowlers of the current generation.

While Rabada was always a known entity in South African cricketing circles from his provincial days, it was his performance in the semi-final of the 2014 U19 World Cup against Australia that shot him into global limelight. He blew away the Australians with figures of 6/25. South Africa, under the captaincy of Aiden Markram, eventually won the U19 World Cup that year for the very first time. Rabada finished as the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 14 wickets in five innings at a phenomenal strike-rate of 19.8.

It all started to fall in place for the youngster. Rabada was awarded a franchise contract immediately after returning home from the U19 World Cup in March 2014 and within a month he was playing for the Highveld Lions. Five months later he was already on a plane to Australia with the South Africa A side for two Unofficial Tests and a 50-over Quadrangular series. A few months later Rabada while turning out for Lions in a first-class game against Dolphins claimed match-figures of 14/105, breaking Dale Steyn's record for the best bowling figures in the franchise era of South African cricket.

It was clear that the paceman had caught the eye of the people that mattered in South African cricket and would be fast-tracked into the senior team. But the bigger question was whether Rabada was ready for the rigours of international cricket. 

The answer was received in 12 months' time when Rabada ripped out Bangladesh in his debut ODI game in Dhaka. The speedster returned figures of 6/16 in his maiden ODI, the best-ever for a debutant in the 50-over format. It also included a hat-trick as Rabada became only the second bowler to achieve this feat on ODI debut, after Taijul Islam. 

Rabada made his Test debut the same year against India in Mohali and while he didn't quite have the same start as his 50-over career, the world of cricket had found its new bowling superstar. 

It was not just the raw pace that made Rabada stand out amongst his peers. The ability to consistently bowl in excess of 145kmph backed by immaculate control was what made the South African a rare commodity.

In just his sixth Test, Rabada picked up match-figures of 13/144 against England and became the youngest South African to take a ten-wicket haul in the longest format of the game. Rabada continued his glorious rise on the international circuit thereon. 

He finished 2016 with 46 wickets in 9 Tests, the third-most for a pacer that year behind Mitchell Starc (50) and Stuart Broad (48). He bettered that in 2017 when he finished as the second-highest wicket-taker in Tests with 57 scalps in 11 matches at a strike-rate of just 37.9. Rabada then went a notch up in 2018 as he finished the year as the highest wicket-taker in Tests with 52 wickets in 10 outings striking every 38.2 balls. At the start of 2018, Rabada also became the youngest player to ever top the Test bowling table at the tender age of 22. 

A combination of loss of form, injuries and run-ins with the ICC saw Rabada's numbers going down a touch in 2019 but he still returned 40 wickets in 8 Tests at a more than decent strike-rate of 44.7. 

In fact, since his debut in the longest format of the game in November 2015, no other pacer has picked up more wickets than Rabada's 197 in Test cricket. Stuart Broad (170), Mitchell Starc (166), James Anderson (158) and Josh Hazlewood (155) follow on the list. 

Rabada also has the best-strike amongst all bowlers since his Test debut (minimum 50 wickets), that of 40.7.

Rabada's effectiveness has just not been restricted to Test cricket. He has left an impressionable mark on ODI as well as T20 cricket. Rabada was the joint-leading wicket-taker during South Africa's five-match ODI series in India in the 2015-16 season that they won 3-2. He has since been a consistent wicket-taker for the Proteas in the format. 

Since his debut in ODIs in July 2015, only Trent Boult with 118 wickets has more scalps than Rabada's 117 for a pacer. Rabada's strike-rate of 32.8 also stands out here.

In July 2017, Rabada was bought by Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals) for INR 5 crore. He was bought back again by the Delhi based franchise in 2018 but he could play a single game that season due to injury. Rabada had a terrific 2019 IPL season with Delhi where he scalped 25 wickets in 12 outings at a strike rate of 11.2. He had to withdraw from the tournament in the later stages due to back injury but still finished the season as the second-highest wicket-taker.

At a very young age, Rabada has become the leader of the South African pace bowling unit. Turning 25, Rabada has a number of years ahead of him and with the way he is going, he could well end up with a bagful of wickets across all three formats.

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