Virat Kohli toughest to bowl to, says Kagiso Rabada
South Africa's endless conveyor belt has a habit of churning out exceptional speedsters; it's been years now, but the trend refuses to die down.
Ever since their re-admission to cricket, the 'pace' baton for the Proteas has seamlessly changed hands; their current torch-bearer continues to rattle the best and carry that legacy forward.
In fact, he's building one of his own.
At 6'3'', Kagiso Rabada towers over his peers, metaphorically and otherwise. His stunning rise has seen him become the highest wicket-taker across formats since his debut, bettering the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Trent Boult. And, he seems to have just started.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda on the sidelines of the Mzansi Super League T20, Rabada, a man of few words, started with the confession that cricket wasn't the first sport he loved as a kid.
He played rugby initially and then switched to cricket. "I gravitated towards cricket only later - I was better at the sport".
Laconic as he is on camera, there's little that stops him from making a cricket ball talk. Fast-tracked into the South African set-up, he arrived on the biggest stage in style with a spectacular spell against Bangladesh on his ODI debut in 2015, picking up a fifer.
When asked about the toughest batsmen at the top-most level, Rabada is quick to answer.
"So far, it has been Virat Kohli who has been scoring a lot of runs. I haven't played as much against other nations".
In 11 ODIs and six Tests, Rabada has got Kohli's number only twice each. He is yet to dismiss him in T20Is.
One aspect that stands out for Rabada is his effectiveness across formats. Within the first two and a half years of his career, he had raced up to the No.1 spot in the ICC ODI and Test rankings for bowlers.
Speaking about his modified approach when it comes to white-ball cricket, as opposed to the red-cherry, Rabada stated that the changes are only subtle.
"The basics still imply, but in the white-ball format, you just need to bowl a lot more change-ups and have to think on your feet a bit more than you would have to in Test cricket".
His senior statesman, Dale Steyn, arguably South Africa's bowler of this century, had recently said that he considers Rabada 'way better than him'. A humble Rabada did not stop short of sharing the mutual admiration.
"Dale Steyn's contribution to South Africa is immense. He's been a contributor and won a lot of games for the country. He's played a role in putting smiles on South African faces and inspiring the youth".
With Steyn's comeback, the veteran could join forces with Rabada for next year's World Cup, a trophy that the country has failed to clinch in seven attempts. Rabada, who was born a year before the 1996 World Cup, downplays the lack of silverware in the Proteas cabinet, despite the presence of top-notch bowlers.
"I don't think much has to be done to change. We have come really close in the past, and it's all a matter of adding the finishing touch, that's it".
"South Africa is known for producing pacers simply because we have done that in the past. We have produced world-class bowlers like Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald. It's enough to inspire kids to be like them".
Ntini was 20, Steyn 21 and Pollock 22 when they made their respective debuts. At 23, Kagiso Rabada is already into his fourth year of international cricket. Earlier this year, he toppled Harbhajan Singh to become the youngest to 150 Test wickets. The rise has been spectacular, but it has also been alarmingly quick.
Since his first-ever match for South Africa, Rabada has bowled more than 1500 overs across formats, the most by any pacer in the world. Ahead of the IPL this year, he had conceded that he has serious workload concerns and needs to manage his future better.
When asked how the plans are shaping up, and how he manages to juggle domestic leagues with international commitments, Rabada said: "It's a tough question. I think it is important to realise where I am at with my body and to structure things a lot more smartly in terms of energy consumption and the strain on my body. I need to manage that a lot better. Just doing the right things at the right time more often".
Rabada rose through the U-19 ranks, where he first gained limelight, representing the country in the 2014 World Cup. For youngsters today, there are several other avenues to break through, including T20 leagues that have turned into springboards for launching careers.
Rabada, who is representing the Jozi Stars in the Mzansi Super League, a T20 competition that is witnessing South Africa's best talents rub shoulders with international stars, predicts the South Africa-based league to be a roaring success.
"My expectation from the MSL T20 is great competition and sportsmanship, good vibes in the country and complete, overall entertainment".
While there are several illustrious names in the mix, Rabada is keen on reuniting with the 'Universe Boss'.
"I look forward to playing with Chris Gayle once again. A lot of the guys in the Jozi Stars are Highveld Lions players. I look forward to playing with them, as well as meeting new people".