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The World's Best Fast Bowler

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Kagiso_Rabada_South_Africa_Test_CricketKagiso Rabada has been in the news lately for a variety of reasons. He is a precocious talent. By the time he hangs up his boots, he may well go on to become the greatest pace bowler of all-time in Tests. That is not giving in to hyperbole.

He has genuine pace, can swing the new ball conventionally and obtain reverse swing with the slightly older ball. He is pretty much the complete package and at the age of 22 is already an indispensable part of the Proteas pace attack.

There is no denying that he needs to learn to rein his emotions and keep his temper in check. Even after his successful appeal, he is one offense away from missing the last match of the Test series against Australia.

The purpose of this article is to evaluate his credentials as a bowler and see where he stands when compared to the pantheon of all-time great pace bowlers in Tests.

The table below gives Rabada’s record in home and away conditions in Tests.

 

 

Matches

Wickets

Bowling Average

Bowling Strike Rate

5 Wickets in an Innings

10 wickets in a Match

Overall

28

135

21.45

38.9

9

4

Home

16

94

17.91

30.8

8

4

Away

12

41

29.58

57.3

1

0

 

His record at home is outstanding. His record away is not as impressive, but it is not poor by any stretch of imagination and it will definitely improve as he gains experience. Even though Rabada made his T20I debut in 2014, at the tender age of 19, he has already made a name for himself in the international arena. It’s hard to believe he is not even 23 years old.

Normally, when comparing the statistics of players across eras in Tests, a minimum cutoff of 100 wickets for bowlers is taken. The table below gives the bowling stats of some great fast bowlers of yesteryear at 23 years of age.

 

Player

Matches

Wickets

Bowling Average

Bowling Strike Rate

5 Wickets in an Innings

10 wickets in a Match

Waqar Younis

35

194

19.72

36.8

19

4

Kapil Dev

45

179

29.74

56.4

14

1

Kagiso Rabada

28

135

21.45

38.9

9

4

 

Only Waqar Younis and Kapil Dev have taken more wickets than Rabada before the age of 23 and both have played more Tests than Rabada. These 2 and Ian Botham (with 10) are the only bowlers who have taken more five-wicket hauls in an innings than Rabada at that age. Rabada’s 4 ten-wicket hauls in a match are the joint-most with Waqar by a bowler at that age. Clearly, he has made a terrific start to his Test career.

In Test history, there have been 110 pace bowlers who have taken at least 100 Test wickets. Rabada has the 9th best bowling average and the 2nd best bowling Strike Rate amongst them.

In the early years of Test cricket, before the improvement of cricket pitches, pitches that were left uncovered were skewed heavily in favour of bowlers. If the same cutoff is applied to bowlers who have taken a minimum of 100 Test wickets over the last 50 years (i.e. from 1st January 1968), Rabada has the 4th best bowling average and the best bowling strike rate among the 89 bowlers. This is a phenomenal achievement when you consider the great fast bowlers who have graced the game.

The table below gives the list of the ten pace bowlers who have taken the most five wicket hauls in an innings.

 

Player

Matches

5 Wickets an Innings

10 wickets in a Match

Tests per 5 wicket haul in an innings

Tests per 10 wicket haul in a match

R Hadlee

86

36

9

2.39

9.55

G McGrath

124

29

3

4.28

41.33

Ian Botham

102

27

4

3.77

25.5

Dale Steyn

86

26

5

3.31

17.2

James Anderson

134

25

3

5.36

44.67

Wasim Akram

104

25

5

4.16

20.8

Imran Khan

88

23

6

3.83

14.67

Kapil Dev

131

23

2

5.7

65.5

Dennis Lillee

70

23

7

3.04

10

C Ambrose

98

22

3

4.45

32.67

 

Rabada takes a five-wicket haul in an innings once every 3.11 Tests and a 10-wicket match haul once every 7 Tests. The number of 5 wicket hauls in an innings and the number of 10 wicket hauls in a Test may not always paint a true picture as it depends on the number of quality bowlers in a team.

For example: Richard Hadlee and Muttiah Muralitharan will always find it easier to take 5 wicket and 10 wicket hauls as they played in weak teams and therefore had the opportunity to take more wickets.

Rabada takes five wicket hauls more frequently than anyone in the above list except Hadlee and 10 wicket hauls more frequently than any bowler in the list. This shows his wicket taking potential.

Rabada made his Test debut at the age of 20. 9 out of the 15 pace bowlers with the most wickets in history did not even make their debut by 20. Only Kapil, Waqar, Akram, Marshall, Anderson and Imran had made their debut by that age and they played 23, 19, 15, 3, 3 and 1 Test respectively.

What makes that achievement even more meritorious is that he has done it in country which is known for producing a plethora of fast bowlers. So, Rabada must have overcome stiff competition from the ranks to reach the top level.

The most Tests played by a fast bowler (excluding all-rounders) are 134 by James Anderson who is still plying his trade. If Rabada can keep his head and shoulders firmly on the ground he might well end up playing the maximum number of Tests by a pace bowler and surpass Glenn McGrath’s Test record of 563 wickets.

 

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