Fresh off IPL experience and now the world’s No 1 ODI bowler, Kagiso Rabada has another opportunity to show the world what he’s capable of.
Only the Delhi Daredevils know why Rabada was excluded from the first five IPL games. It was a frustrating wait for KG. Six games is how long it took for Paddy Upton and Rahul Dravid to decide that he should be one of the four overseas players allowed in the starting XI. Pat Cummins and Rabada both bowl well over 140km/h, but they deemed the young Australian as the better option to lead the line.
Upton is an intellectual thinker with a CV that covers all corners of the globe, while his assistant, Dravid, is one of the finest batsmen to have graced the game. But there was some serious overthinking going on during the matches. Notes were being jotted down furiously and the discussions were relentless on the boundary ropes, but this is T20 cricket, and the decisions ultimately made were too rational for the format.
Rabada was on the receiving end of the thought processes. The decision effectively came down to the think tank deciding Cummins was a better batsman.
‘It’s never nice sitting out; the thought was that Cummins scored runs in the Big Bash League so they wanted him at No 8, which is totally understandable,’ Rabada tells SACricketmag.com.
‘I know I haven’t produced the numbers with the bat. Upton and Dravid sat down with me and were honest with me about it. I saw it as an opportunity to work on my game and make sure I was ready.’
And work on it he did, for his debut saw him produce his highest score in his short T20 career to date. He was bumped up to No 7, and his 44, in a 91-run stand with Chris Morris, almost saw them win the game from 24-6 against eventual champions the Mumbai Indians.
‘I was batting in the nets and the practice games and they could see that I could bat, so when we collapsed I came in to try and consolidate. Those were my instructions, and it almost worked. Morris and myself just needed a couple more boundaries to win the game.’
The fact that he only ended up playing six matches for the Daredevils suited the Proteas perfectly well. Fresh and firing, Rabada, who only turned 22 last week, was comfortably the Proteas’ best bowler throughout the England series. The way he tore open the English top-order in the third ODI can only be described as special.
Just three overs into his spell he had figures of 4-12, and the English set the record for the most wickets lost inside the first five overs of an ODI. They were on 20-6, and by the end of the match, Rabada was officially the best ODI bowler in the world.
The transition from the IPL to playing for your international side isn’t always the easiest, which makes it all the more remarkable. You adopt a different kind of lifestyle in India, the mindset shifts slightly when you’re in a T20 environment for that long, and most importantly, you suddenly become friends with your enemies.
‘It’s natural to have a competitive edge when you go out and play,’ Rabada says. ‘When you’re with each other it’s all fun and games because we see each other as human beings who just love the game and loving sharing our thoughts. But when we’re on the pitch that agressiveness comes back.’
You wouldn’t believe it, but this will be Rabada’s first major tournament in ODI clothing. His record-breaking debut against Bangladesh came two months after the Proteas’ semi-final exit from the 2015 World Cup. Yet, despite his lack of big-match experience, he’s the No 1 bowler in the world, and the unequivocal leader of the Proteas attack.
He’s turned from a player with potential into one that is genuinely feared by his opposition. To say ‘he’s arrived’ is a cliche I was hoping to avoid, but he’s no longer one for the future. He’s one of several cogs that will need to be running smoothly in the Proteas lineup in order for them to win their first major silverware in 19 years, but they certainly can’t win it without him.
‘I’m trying to improve all the time; I don’t see a limit. I just want to keep going wherever I can,’ he concludes.
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