CAPE TOWN. — The first Test cricket between South Africa and India at Newlands moved along so quickly that it was hard to keep up with the plot twists. After day two the major talking point was Dale Steyn not completing a Test for the third time in five attempts and how South Africa would cope without one of their major bowling weapons in the second innings.
Then, after his best return in Test cricket (6/42) knocked the Indians over for 135 and the Proteas emerged as 72-run victors, Vernon Philander was the toast of Cape Town. Philander bowled beautifully all Test and, in these conditions, he looks to be South Africa’s chief destroyer.
Speaking to some of the Indian journalists at Newlands, there was the common belief that it was Philander who would pose the biggest threat to the Indian batters in this series. The pace and bounce of Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, they said, was not what worried them, but rather the monotonous, probing accuracy of Philander.
While all of that was going on, Rabada found himself at the back of the queue behind Steyn, Philander and Morkel. He had to be patient and wait for his turn to get his hands on the ball, but when he did he more than played his part as he left the Test with match figures of 5/75.
With James Anderson’s England struggles Down Under, that was enough to see Rabada move to the top of the ICC Test rankings, becoming just the seventh South African to achieve that feat.
He is also the youngest Test No. 1 in history. Rabada may not have blown anyone away in Cape Town, but he has consistently performed since making his Test debut in November 2015 on that woeful Indian tour where the Proteas were hammered.
Time after time, he delivers spells that change matches and he has the ability to get wickets out of nothing and when the Proteas desperately need one. Still just 22, Rabada has notched up 24 Test matches for the Proteas and has already claimed 110 wickets.
He averages just 21.96 and takes a wicket every 39.2 deliveries. If he continues at this rate, by the time Rabada has played 100 Test matches he will have taken over 440 wickets. It is, of course, impossible to predict what the future will bring and 100 Test matches will always be a big ask for a fast bowler in the modern climate, but the signs are that Rabada will eventually become South Africa’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Test cricket.
There is no reason to think otherwise. There have often been concerns over Rabada’s workload and, given how valuable an asset he is to the national cause over the next decade, care needs to be taken in ensuring that he is not overworked. But a look at his short run-up and delivery stride suggests that he is not beating his body up in the way that many others in his trade do. Morkel and Steyn, for example, charge in.
Rabada’s action, though, is incredibly smooth and seemingly effortless, and the hope is that will give him extra years towards the back-end of his career. The other good news from a South African perspective is that Rabada doesn’t feel like he is bowling at his best right now.
He is not unhappy with his bowling, but listening to him speaking during the first Test it was clear that wants to be more consistent and accurate with ball in hand. At 22, and now the best bowler in Test cricket, Rabada is still looking for ways to improve.
That is his other major strength. Ability aside, and there is plenty of that, Rabada has a good head on his shoulders for such a young man. He has never allowed himself to be caught with his head in the clouds. He is firm in his answers at press conferences, is not there to win popularity contests and every time you speak to him it is made abundantly clear that his only motivation is performing for his country and his team-mates.
He is already the ultimate professional and role model, and he is well on his way to becoming not just one of the greatest that South Africa has ever seen, but one of the greatest the game has ever seen. — Sport24