JOHANNESBURG – Among the many questions that need answering over the course of the four Tests between England and South Africa, the most pertinent for South Africans will be: ‘Will the real Kagiso Rabada please stand up?’
The Kagiso Rabada who took 13 wickets against England the last time they played at SuperSport Park in 2016, the Rabada who claimed 5/92 in Perth nine months later when South Africa was a bowler short, the Rabada who took 11 wickets against Australia in Port Elizabeth in 2018, that Rabada, has been missing in 2019.
To expect any sportsman to maintain those levels over three years is asking a lot, but Rabada has set extremely high standards for himself since his days as a junior, so that’s what viewers expect. This year was a big year for the Proteas, but in both of the high profile events on the calendar for the Proteas – the World Cup and the Test series in India – Rabada has not been at his best.
There are mitigating circumstances of course. He looked tired and over-bowled in England and for that Cricket South Africa’s administrators and specifically the now suspended CEO Thabang Moroe deserves a lot of blame. It was Moroe who failed to ensure Rabada along with Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock didn’t return early from the IPL this year to rest and prepare properly for the World Cup.
In India Rabada was burdened with a lot of responsibility, and he performed only sporadically.
This year hasn’t been a bad one in terms of statistics in the Test arena for the 24 year old - in seven Tests he’s picked up 26 wickets at an average of 28.19 - but when you consider that Kemar Roach, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner have taken more wickets that Rabada this year, it shows how small his impact has been.
Instead attention has focused on Australia’s Pat Cummins and England’s bright young superstar in the making, Jofra Archer.
Rabada’s preparation for the Test series against England has been far from ideal. He bowled only 26 overs in the Mzansi Super League and opportunities to train outside of match time was curtailed by the bad weather that hung around Gauteng in the first half of December.
The South African team’s new bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt has looked back in order to help Rabada move forward over the next few weeks. “I said to him, that I still have the stuff that we worked on. So I’ve just gone back to my log book, this (particular) year we worked on this or that or your wrist position,” said Langeveldt, who is keen to see Rabada show more vigour. “The energy thing is to manage him...he is still young in his in cricket, he sometimes feels he needs to bowl, to get his rhythm, but it’s a fine line.”
“You want to protect him, but you also want him to get his rhythm back,” Langeveldt, who worked with Rabada when he was the national side’s bowling coaching in 2016, remarked.
“We are having double sessions (at the Proteas training camp), because the guys are not playing first class cricket. We are trying to create that game scenario, get time in the legs. The workloads are up.”
Rabada for now looks very relaxed, but knows that will change from Thursday. “What you don’t want is getting caught asleep in the first Test and then having to want to come back and play. We’ve had intense days, to make sure we get the ball rolling from day one,” he said.
“I’m trying to be really practical at the moment, have a high intensity and adapt on the spot. The emotions happens impulsively, it’s not something you tell yourself to do. The natural aggression, the competitiveness will always be there when you play.”