Pace tyro Rabada surging through Proteas ranks

admin | 杭州桑拿
7 May 2019

When South Africa broke its bafflingly poor record at international tournaments earlier this year, in the under-19 World Cup, team coach Ray Jennings predicted its pace spearhead would be playing for the Proteas’ senior team within three years – maybe even two.

Kagiso Rabada’s progression in that sense has been, like his bowling, rapid. What Jennings expected would take years was instead completed within seven months, on Wednesday night at Adelaide Oval.

At 19 years and 164 days, Rabada became South Africa’s youngest Twenty20 debutant and third youngest in any format over the past half a century – and all before he has even completed his first full season in domestic cricket in South Africa.

That the 191-centimetre paceman consistently reached 140 km/h in the first Twenty20 against Australia, and could do so again if chosen at the MCG on Friday night, would not have surprised anyone who saw him excel in the under-19 World Cup, not least Australia’s batsmen against whom he claimed 6-25 in the semi-final to surge to public prominence in South Africa and the world.

“Ever since I started playing … I’ve always had pace. Always,” Rabada said this week. “I didn’t get lots of wickets in school, but my economy was really low. I didn’t have one single five-for for the first team. But as soon as I got to the provincial ranks, that’s when I started to get wickets.”

South Africa’s determination to expedite Rabada’s progression from the elite junior teams to the elite senior teams was reflected in his selection for South Africa A for a mid-year series in Australia, and then in the top team in the one-day tri-series in Zimbabwe that also featured Australia.

“Things have happened really quickly for me, but I love it. I love the opportunity,” he said.

That Rabada did not play in the series in Zimbabwe – he was deliberately chosen as a non-playing member, to ease him into international cricket – did not grate on him at all.

He was instead rapt to be able to approach the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for advice, as prospective teammates rather than just idols.

Because of Rabada’s rapid pace and skin colour, he is likely to generate comparisons to now-retired Proteas fast-bowler Makhaya Ntini. Rabada is less bothered by such comparisons than he is baffled by them.

“To me it [skin colour] is irrelevant,” he explained. “I’m labelled as a ‘born free’ in South Africa. Obviously I know the history, but I didn’t live through that era so I don’t know what it’s like. Obviously there is racism around still, but I don’t see skin colour in anything.

“I’m me, and I’m trying to be like me and no one else. I look up to lots of bowlers, not just one bowler … it doesn’t matter what country you’re from. If I like something … I’ll try and incorporate that into me. But at the end of the day I want to be me, not anyone else.”

Kyle Abbott, who is emerging as South Africa’s most reliable paceman outside its big three of Steyn, Morkel and Vernon Philander, said Rabada had impressed him with his efforts in training and on the field, as well as socially.

“There’s a lot of talent there. For a 19-year-old to be bowling … at 140-odd clicks … is really encouraging,” Abbott said.

“The environment we’ve got here is a perfect one for a youngster to come into. We respect each other and he’s fitted in incredibly well. I definitely think he’s going to be one to look out for in the future.”

Rabada’s rapid progression through the ranks has already forced him to abandon a plan to study law.

He will still study at university, at his parents’ urging, but will pursue a less onerous qualification more conducive to his playing duties in domestic cricket for Gauteng and Johannesburg’s Lions, as well as the national team.

Rabada’s intent to maintain his close ties with family and friends has already helped him adjust to life on the road and “not [be] letting the fame go to my head”.

“Family is important; even on this tour they’ve really helped me. I’ve been on the phone with them and they’re there. They encourage me a lot,” he said.

“When you feel down – and I know I’ve felt a bit down for various reasons – [they’re invaluable] when you’re seeking some advice.

“I do feel nerves, I admit it. I’m not Superman. But they [family] really get your head in the right space, and I’m grateful for that.”

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