Kagiso Rabada - a nation's hope
It had not been officially confirmed when he was the spearhead of the attack that played against England at home. But in Perth, he showed all the qualities of a leader of the pack as he destroyed the Aussie top order( Bavuma's contribution preventing it from being a single-handed effort) in a searing spell of fast bowling.
The toe crushing yorkers to Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc underlined his eye-catching show. His working over of Adam Voges, who may no longer have a Bradman-esque average at the end of this series, was a sight to behold.
Early life and career
His development from St. Stithians College to Perth is an inspiring one for young fast bowlers. Rabada was raised in Johannesburg, the land of the quick and although he was not keen on cricket initially, that changed. He didn’t have an impressive wicket tally at the school level. His raw pace, however, quickly gained attention and he developed extremely quickly.
After impressing at Gauteng, he stole the show at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup. Rabada running through the Aussies in the semi-final with a burst of 6/25 is a pleasing sight for any cricket fan. He dominated the tournament bowling charts with 14 wickets. More than the wickets, his ability to hit speeds of 85mph at that age, made people sit up and take notice of this kid.
His terrific show in the World Cup saw him roped into the Lions franchise where he took a record 14 wickets against Dolphins in a match, including a nine-wicket haul in the second innings.
His bowling coach at Lions, Gordon Parsons, tweaked his effortless action slightly, by helping him keep his arm straight. But as Albie Morkel, a huge fan of Rabada, says, "You can't coach what he has got." The natural flow of his action is one reason behind him finding swing anywhere. The fast-tracking to International cricket followed soon.
The pearl among the rocks
If Makhaya Ntini was the pioneer of the blacks in the country, Rabada is their prodigal son, a scary young tearaway with a steady head over his lanky frame. In every way, he emulated Makhaya Ntini.
While Ntini managed 6/22 against the Aussies on debut, Rabada plucked the record with a 6/16 on debut against Bangladesh that included a hat trick, becoming just the second debutant to get one. He, however, had already won a T20I cap against the Aussies but his ODI debut was more memorable one.
If people thought they had to wait a while to see him sparkle in whites, he proved them wrong. In just his sixth Test, he ripped apart England with a 13/144 at Centurion, the second best figures by a South African. This time Ntini held onto his record of 13/132. But it is just another milestone for this youngster to scale in the future.
After some mesmerising performances for South Africa, the 20-year-old Rabada swept CSA's Annual Dinner awards with six to his name, including the South African Cricketer of the Year prize in July 2016. He beat the likes of AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla to the coveted award.
The youngest to walk away with the biggest prize of the night, he also was the first to win as many as six awards at the Annual Dinner. More accolades followed including the Test and ODI Player of the Year and Player's Player of the Year. The lanky seamer was getting more headline space than any South African cricketer had managed in the country at his age.
For someone of his age, his maturity and determination is unbelievable. In an interview with ESPNCricinfo the seamer had said, "After the game, there will be peace but during the contest, there is only one winner."
A 'Champion Bowler'
So quick was his development that no one needed to tell him what to do. In Perth, with a bowler down, Rabada took it upon himself to finish off the game for South Africa. He tore through the Aussie top order like a man on a mission and did not back down until his side were 1-0 up. To run in and bowl 30 overs of seam at full pace, in temperatures soaring near the late 30s showcases a grit beyond words.
"I am incredibly proud of KG. He just wanted the ball," du Plessis, the stand-in skipper at Perth said after their incredible victory. "Every time I said, 'Are you tired?' he said, 'No, you're not taking the ball out of my hand'. That's the sign of a champion bowler for me. He wants to be in the fight the whole time."
The 'champion bowler' has shown that he belongs at the international level. Ian Healy on air at Perth hailed him as the best quickie since Wasim Akram. Fast bowlers rarely get better compliments than that.
Thriving on challenges
The young Rabada has shown that he revels shouldering responsibility. If anyone thought the step up at Perth was a one-off incident, he has many such performances to show for.
He was asked to bowl the final over against the finisher, MS Dhoni, in Kanpur in the ODI series against India. With them needing 11 to win and Captain Cool at the wicket, few held on to the hope of a Proteas victory. But Rabada took two wickets, including Dhoni's, and conceded only five runs, winning the game for his country.
A few months later, in the absence of senior men, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, Rabada bowled his heart out to help South Africa overhaul a tough looking England side in Centurion with a 13-wicket match haul.
Yet another challenge awaited him in Australia. Even before the series had started, Aussie quick, Peter Siddle said, "I don't reckon (he is a danger man). I reckon he's the man we can sort of target."
Siddle was made to eat his own words as Rabada took a fifer in the second innings of the first Test at Perth to drive his side to a 1-0 lead in the series, snatching the 'Man of the Match' award in the process.
The finished article
While most youngsters are clueless when they enter the international stage and gradually learn to survive, here was a young bowler who had answers to his questions.
After the Nagpur ODI where he contained Dhoni, Rabada had said, "As I walk back to my mark I am thinking all the time, 'Where am I going to bowl? Should I change my field? How is the wicket? How am I going to get him out?'"
The thought process conveys a maturity well beyond his years. A willingness to adapt, learn and be strong. It has crept into his music as well, which Rabada is passionate about. "I'm making music but it's not easy," he had said to ESPNCricinfo in an interview some time back.
His musical melodies have lyrics like, "I keep holding on, staying strong… don't let go of who you are." South Africa and it's fans will be hoping that he keeps "holding on" and "staying strong" for he is the future and he makes their future.