JOHANNESBURG - Kagiso Rabada had been earmarked as the spearhead of the South African attack from the moment he blew away the Australian kids at the Under-19 World Cup in 2014.
But no one could have anticipated that role being thrust upon him less than two years since he made his Test debut. Rabada’s just 22, in Bloemfontein he’ll be playing his 22nd Test, and he will be the Proteas attack’s leader.
It will probably be like water off a duck’s back for the man himself but it is indicative of his rapid ascent as an international player and of course the plethora of injuries that have befallen fast bowlers in the country.
Duanne Olivier would normally be just a "squad" bowler but he’s playing in his third consecutive Test, while Dane Paterson got a call up because, well, there’s no one else in SA cricket right now.
Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Chris Morris are in various stages of recovery, Morne Morkel is out for up to six weeks with an abdominal muscle tear; that’s 214 Test caps missing from Bloemfontein.
So Rabada, the most experienced bowler in the squad with those 21 Tests, it is to lead, and according to Olivier, playing his first Test in his home-town, someone he reckons he can learn from.
“Obviously KG is there leading the attack, we can learn a lot from him, and (captain) Faf (du Plessis) and the other players we can learn a lot from them. I don’t feel like there is massive pressure on me or the rest of the guys,” Olivier, who’s played just four Tests, said on Wednesday.
Leadership sits well with Rabada. He’s taken 44 Test wickets this year, the joint second highest, despite many feeling he hasn’t bowled at his best.
Of course believing a 22-year-old can operate at his best every time he plays is impossible, but such is the standard he has set that it’s what many have come to expect from him.
What Rabada has shown in his short Test career is when his captain has demanded his best, he’s been able to deliver; the fourth Test at Centurion against England and the Perth Test against the Australians the outstanding examples. But in those matches he had Morkel, Kyle Abbott and Philander as partners; in Bloemfontein, he’s the main man.
Olivier may not feel like there is a lot of pressure on him or the other bowlers, but that is in fact the case. It can’t all be left to Rabada.
Olivier may well share the new ball with Rabada, with Wayne Parnell - fresh from an injury himself who last played a first class match in April and who has just five Test caps to his name - set to replace Morkel in the starting XI.
A lot will also once again be expected of Keshav Maharaj, for whom SA cricket fans so quick to admonish a spinner have grown increasingly grateful. His ability to hold the game will be vital, and if the pitch in Bloemfontein spins, he is a key weapon.
As for that pitch at Mangaung Oval, don’t expect it to be the fast bowler’s graveyard the Cape Cobras and Knights encountered in a Sunfoil Series match two weeks ago when six centuries and a combined 1190 runs were scored in two out of three innings the match lasted.
As the first Test in Potchefstroom unfolded last week, the SA camp had requested updates on just what to expect in Bloemfontein and were sent back pictures of a grass-laden pitch.
“This wicket looks totally different,” Olivier said when asked to compare the Test pitch to one he bowled on a fortnight ago. “There’s normally ‘tennis ball bounce’ here in Bloem. Day 1 will be slow and then it will quicken up on Days 2, 3 and 4.”