The Proteas head into the Test series against England needing two young fast bowlers to carry an enormous bowling load and an even bigger responsibility.
Kagiso Rabada is already considered one of the leaders of the Proteas attack at just 24 years old and could hardly have made a better start to his career. Having said that, he started out surrounded by Proteas pace stalwarts like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. While Philander is still around, albeit, with questionable fitness, the other two have moved on leaving much expected from Rabada and 22-year-old Lungi Ngidi.
Rabada debuted when England last visited South Africa and has now played 40 Tests for his country, taking 183 wickets. He is ranked behind only Pat Cummins on the ICC’s Test bowler rankings, but he still has some way to go to fulfil his enormous potential.
Ngidi has played just five Tests in a career stunted by persistent injury, but has already displayed the qualities of a great fast bowler. His five-wicket haul against India on a pitch that looked like a bale of hay and played almost like a sub-continental wicket showed what he can do, but he needs to prove he can win matches for the Proteas on a consistent basis.
If South Africa are to overcome England their fast bowlers will need to play a big role.
One of Steyn’s great strengths was his ability to assess the opposition and find a way to get them out and he was also great at shutting down tailend resistance.
There is no doubt that Rabada and Ngidi can and will take wickets, but they will need to be especially ruthless in a series that could be swung by a single 50-run partnership.
Their direct opposition should be the experienced England duo of Stuart Broad and the returning James Anderson. The two are among the best to have pulled on an England shirt, but both still have plenty to prove.
Anderson wants to make it to the next Ashes, but first needs to prove his fitness in a year where he has bowled just a handful of overs. Broad still faces criticism that he wastes the new ball and will need to fight hard to keep his place in the XI as well as his right to the new ball.
The old dogs will already be formulating plans to pick apart the Proteas infamously brittle batting. The Proteas, in turn, need Rabada and Ngidi to help them keep the tourists on the back foot.
Rabada needs to find ways to channel his aggression into performance and avoid going off the boil at crucial moments, while Ngidi might be too preoccupied with staying fit to do enough damage to England.
There isn’t a manual for fast bowlers which is why there is no substitute for experience. Ngidi and Rabada still have much to learn, but the Proteas need them to be a quick study.
Australia’s performance against England in the Ashes will give Ngidi and Rabada plenty of inspiration, but it will be up to the young guns to get the job done.
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