South Africa's Kagiso Rabada in action. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters
LONDON - They say that not everything is won on paper, but if it was, South Africa would be firm favourites for the Champions Trophy that starts on Thursday.

Going by the ICC rankings, South Africa have considerable fire-power at their disposal, a fact emphasised by the ascension of Kagiso Rabada, pictured, to the top of the one-day bowling pile, just ahead of his teammate, Imran Tahir.

At just 22, Rabada has not yet celebrated his two-year anniversary in international cricket, but he is already regarded as one of the leading lights in all formats.

He has grabbed that mantle as the leading man, by sheer force of performance and personality, and his ice-cool temperament continues to impress at the highest level.

He leapt from fifth in the rankings to first, thanks to a seven-wicket haul in the recently concluded series against England.

Rabada becomes the youngest man to reach the summit since Saqlain Mushtaq of Pakistan, and he has shown signs of finding his best form, just in touch for the blue-ribbon event. Already, he has harvested 64 wickets at a rate of 24.90, at an economy rate that is a sliver over five an over.

The numbers alone are impressive, but Rabada’s real value in the side goes beyond the numbers. As skipper AB de Villiers seeks for the best balance between his specialists and his all-rounders, he knows he can chuck his lanky assassin the ball at any stage of the game, and he can strike.

Kagiso Rabada celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England's Adil Rashid. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Once Imran Tahir, the No 2-ranked bowler in the world returns, there will be a stronger presence about the Proteas’ attack, which has looked to be their biggest concern recently.

De Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock are all in the top 10 batting rankings, and the South African side itself is still top of the team standings. All these stats make impressive reading.

The series loss to England was, seemingly, against the grain after a considerable head of steam was built up at home, going back to a 3-2 win over English in 2015/16.

In that same period, Rabada has risen through the ranks, gone from rookie to chief-destroyer.

Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters

All the kid wants to do is play and, happily, there will be no rest for the wicket-grabber over the next three weeks.

Starting on Saturday, he will hope for English conditions to give him something to nibble at around off-stump, because the door only needs to be slightly ajar for him to kick it down.

He initially came into the spotlight on the back of an ICC event, when he propelled the SA's Under-19 team to a World Cup. Now, just 22 months into his international career, he has lived up to the promise on paper, and is recognised as one of the world’s great strike bowlers. South Africa will hope the No 1 bowler in the one-day world slides into his gear when it matters most. It may well be KG's time.


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