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The Johannesburg diamond

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Kagiso_Rabada_South_Africa_cricketHis countenance radiates joyful innocence. His smile lends a feeling of warmth and is like a breath of fresh air. At only 21 years of age, this man from Johannesburg is a symbol of optimism.

A boy by his visage and already a man by his deeds, Kagiso Rabada, introduced to the game by his cricket enthusiastic grandmother, is the one for the future.

Last July at Mirpur, in the 1st ODI of the series, Rabada had the Bangladeshi batsmen dance to his tunes as he announced himself with a six wicket haul which included a hat trick – only the 2nd player to achieve either on debut. Since then, Rabada has only impressed more and more with each outing, be it in any colours.

He couldn’t have dreamt of a better start than that, Rabada had said. But at the same time he was wary of the expectations. The start was good and bad for reasons of its own, Rabada had contemplated. No wonder the then skipper, Hashim Amla, ushered praise on him for his down to earth attitude and his capability to stay in the present.

 

"Everything has been coming my way but I have just kept it simple, made sure I am ready to play, make sure I live the life an athlete is supposed to live - to a certain extent," Rabada said post his hat trick performance. It is a level of maturity one wouldn’t have expected of a 20 year old kid.

Pace is his forte. Unlike a few of his counterparts, he stalks to the crease at a very gentle pace; his run up is neither threatening nor do his limbs move with any sort of urgency. He takes his time. The pace is generated only at the last moment. Once the arm rotates and the back bends, the ball reaches the batsman in no time.

Though Rabada is naturally a back of a length bowler, he takes a liking to pitching the ball up and surprising the batsman, especially when the batsman is new at the crease and trying to find his feet.

Be it Tamim Iqbal at Mirpur, Rohit Sharma at Indore, Stuart Broad at Johannesburg or Marlon Samuels at Barbados, all have found Rabada’s yorker hard to deal with. The batsmen have been beaten by pace as much as by his length.

His innocent nature takes a backseat on the field. With the ball in hand he is as shrewd and cold as any, and Denesh Ramdin found this out in the space of two deliveries in Barbados. Rabada hit him on the head first up and then followed it up with a pacey fuller one to rattle his middle stump.

Over the course of last one year, Rabada has proved that he isn’t only raw pace. He has blended speed with consistency and thoughtfulness.

 

At Centurion, against England, he toiled hard in the first innings when wickets didn’t come his way. He was resolute and relentless and eventually ended up with 7/112. A classic combination of raw talent and tenacity.

At Kanpur, against one of the best finishers of the game – MS Dhoni, Rabada defended 11 runs in the final over, conceding only 5 runs. He bowled to a plan that was made then and there. Yorkers were disregarded. Instead, back of a length deliveries were darted into Dhoni’s pads, making full use of the two paced pitch and cramping the batsman for room.

“I have never felt more pressure in the game than today. Simply because of magnitude of the players and level of cricket. The fans, the big game, it was very emotional. You are bowling to one (Dhoni) of the best in the world and I have seen finish games even when I was as kid. So it was crucial to keep a clear mind,” Rabada had said at the post-match press conference.

Quite clearly, he could well have been overawed by the magnitude of the game but he kept his nerve and displayed the steel of a pro.

Rabada’s passage in Tests hasn’t been an ideal one. First, he had to make his debut in India on dust beds. Second, he was more or less the spearhead of the attack in most of his matches so far with injuries to either of Steyn /Philander or Morkel.

But it goes without saying that Rabada has exceeded the expectations and performed at a level higher than even he would have dreamt of.

In just a span of one year, Rabada has become such a vital cog in the works for Proteas that his stint at Kent for four weeks this season was seen with a touch of scepticism with respect to his work load.

"The key for him is not to bowl too much when he is over there. If you are playing in county cricket, the overseas bowlers can come back three feet shorter," du Plessis said.

The journey of Kagiso Rabada from a rookie pacer to spearhead of the Proteas attack is nothing short of spectacular.

He is living up to all expectations and promises to deliver more with each passing day.

 

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