Records are cool but Proteas bowler Kagiso Rabada is focused on the process
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JOHANNESBURG - Rather than worry about ‘five-fors’, ‘ten fors’ or man of the match prizes, Kagiso Rabada has reached the stage in his career where the ‘how’ matters more than the ‘how many.’
Records are cool, and Rabada passed the 200 wicket mark in Pakistan earlier this year to statistically establish himself among the great bowlers from South Africa, but he’s looking deeper for ways to keep himself motivated as he completes his seventh year as an international player.
“Cricket may seem easy from the public’s perspective, but it is an extremely hard sport, you are always challenged by the world’s best. It’s extremely stimulating,” Rabada explained from Ireland this week. “Recently, because the game always finds a way to test you, my mindset has changed, to test myself; ‘lets see how you respond,’ ‘how do you respond to the challenge.’
I’ve really been enjoying my cricket of late, not really worrying about my performance, more about how I can perform.”
Perhaps that was best exhibited in the first innings of the first Test against the West Indies in St Lucia last month. Rabada picked up 1/24 in 10 overs. It wasn’t those figures that mattered however, but rather the way in which he bowled; accurately, moving the ball one way then another, utilising his short ball cleverly and setting the tone for the rest of the team.
Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje claimed the majority of the wickets in that first innings of the West Indies. In the second innings, Rabada got his ‘five for.’
Setting the tone as he did in that first innings, is part of Rabada’s ‘new’ role in the South African team - he, as a senior player, is now a leader. ‘New’ in the sense that Rabada has always accepted responsibility within the team. In just his fifth Test in 2016 - his first at his home ground the Wanderers - Rabada was asked to lead an attack featuring a debutant in Hardus Viljoen and another, Chris Morris playing just his second Test. He claimed a first innings ‘five for’ against England, underlining his natural leadership capabilities. Nowadays, however, more is being demanded of Rabada, still just 26, as a leader.
“There is more emphasis on you leading from the front,” he stated. “When I got into the team, you had Dale (Steyn), Morne (Morkel), Hashim (Philander), Vern (Philander), Faf (du Plessis)...all those guys were leading from the front. We have to now take that role, which I think just happens naturally. That’s something I’ve liked and naturally all the players who have played for some time will lead from the front in terms of performing your skill, and speaking a certain language in the team and moving the team in a certain direction.”
Rabada has found that he loves sharing knowledge with new players coming into the Proteas team - and there’s been plenty in the last couple of years. “Definitely, you have a younger group of players who are itching to learn. In my case they ask about my experiences of travelling to certain countries. Guys will naturally ask those questions. It’s nice to answer them based on your own experiences, it’s been happening that way and I’m more than glad to assist where I can.”
So, does it make him feel old to have all these young pups coming into the side and asking a lot of questions? “No…” he laughs, “Not at all..”
Instead, he has thrived in the new culture, the seeds for which were planted at a camp an extended squad held in the Kruger Park last year. Back then, a social explosion occurred within South African cricket around the Black Lives Matter movement and how the players felt the team should react and show support. Initially, their actions lacked clarity, but in the Caribbean, the players were given the option of how they wished to show their support; some stood with their arms raised while making a fist, but the majority, including Rabada, took ‘a knee.’
The camp, Rabada said, went beyond just the BLM stance. “We found ourselves in a spot of bother, because of controversies off the field,” he said.
Those controversies included a teammate - and one of Rabada’s closest friends in the squad, Ngidi, being called out by Proteas players of yesteryear, for his call to support Black Lives Matter. That led to a series of stories regarding divisions within South African teams from years past, that the current generation of Proteas felt they needed to confront last year.
“We felt the best way to deal with that was for us to have an open discussion,” said Rabada. “It’s a good thing to have those kinds of discussions instead of letting everything pile up. That was a step in the right direction. Not only to address issues off the field, but to address where we want to go as a group and what we want to achieve as a team. It was extremely beneficial to be part of that event.”
The benefits of those discussions were perhaps seen for the first time in the Caribbean, where the South Africans won a Test and T20 series against the West Indies. It’s given the players some much needed confidence ahead of a T20 World Cup, where they’ll be adopting the mentality that seems to have helped Rabada of late.
“It’s pointless saying how we are going to perform,” Rabada said about the T20 World Cup, which will be held in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, in October this year. “We are definitely going to challenge, we definitely want to win, we are definitely not afraid of anything. We are going there to compete.”
The Proteas have struggled in previous ICC events, with the 2019 World Cup, their nadir. Rabada disappointed there too, lacking penetration and bowling like someone carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. That will not be the case later this year, his new mindset has meant he sees matters differently, and as one of the team’s leaders, so do others in the Proteas squad. “The last thing we need is to go into a tournament with fear. It’s not about how we perform, it’s the mindset that we are in. We want the challenge.”
*Kagiso Rabada is a Red Bull athlete.