Kagiso Rabada is the latest in a line of world class fast bowlers coming out of South Africa’s pace bowling conveyor belt. After Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn, the mantle of the Proteas’ bowling spearhead has fallen on Rabada’s young shoulders.
Not only that, but the hopes of a nation that has been divided by race, Apartheid and quotas, Rabada has now been given the job of being the poster-boy of a sport that has traditionally been dominated by white South Africans.
The tall right-handed fast-bowler was destined for greatness from early in his career when he tore apart the Australian batting in the 2014 under-19 World Cup semi-final. He took 25/6 there and was by far the fastest bowler, regularly bowling over 140 kmph, as an 18-year-old. South Africa eventually went on to win the tournament and he was the team’s highest wicket-taker.
That got the player nicknamed ‘KG’ a contract with local club team, the Highveld Lions. From there, he got mentorship from teammates and Proteas fast-bowler Chris Morris and Lonwabo Tsotsobe and that helped him get selection for the team’s tour to Bangladesh in 2015.
In his ODI debut he immediately rewrote the history books, taking a hat-trick against Bangladesh and ending up with six for 16 - the best bowling figures of all time on ODI debut. With Dale Steyn out injured, Rabada also go the chance to play against India during the ODI series.
There, he stole the show immediately, bowling with maturity far beyond his years, and notably keeping last-over specialist MS Dhoni in check with 5 dots in the final over of the Indore ODI, and making a star-studded Indian line-up uncomfortable.
Consequently, he was handed a Test debut during the Test series that followed in India. He didn't quite make the red SG ball talk as much as he did the Kookaburra. The dustbowls didn't help much either, as South Africa resorted to bowling their spinners far more than the pacers, rendering the young seam bowler futile.
Better times came in 2016, especially with the Dukes ball as Rabada had a fantastic series against England in England, taking three five-wicket hauls in six innings. Rabada had taken over from Steyn as the bowling spearhead by then and he led the team to a 2-1 drubbing of the Aussies in a Test series in Australia.
Becoming no. 1
In 2017, Rabada became the world’s number one ranked bowler after he took 39/4 in the third ODI during South Africa’s tour of England. As a result, he became the youngest player to become the youngest bowler to become number one since Pakistan’s Saqlain Mushtaq, aged 22.
In 2018, Rabada reached the summit of the Test rankings after taking 34/3 and 41/2 against India during their first Test at Newlands. Later in the year, after winning a Test series against Australia he crossed the 900 points mark in the ICC Test rankings, becoming on the fourth South African bowler to do so after Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Shaun Pollock.
In July that year, KG became the youngest ever bowler to take 150 Test wickets and became the third fastest South African to reach the landmark, in terms of matches (31). He finished the year as the world’s highest Test wicket-taker with 52 Test wickets.
KG’s future looks bright
Undoubtedly, Rabada has shown that he can be the best fast bowler of this generation, already at such a young age. The way he’s going, it won’t be a surprise if he ends up being the highest South African wicket-taker in all three formats of the game.
The game is losing the art of fast bowling and world class fast bowlers and Rabada certainly is one of the torch-bearers in world cricket for this dying breed.
He alone may not be able to bring some elusive ICC silverware to the country, but if South Africa do achieve great things, one can rest assured he played a major role in it.