TELFORD VICE, Delhi
KAGISO Rabada did something on Thursday that he has not done since October 1. That’s 65 days, two Twenty20s, five one-day internationals, a tour match and three tests ago.
What was this thing that Rabada did? Actually, it would be better defined as what he did not do.
His breakfast did not have to share a stomach with whirling butterflies, his thoughts weren’t full of the where and when which Indian batsman did what, he did not pull on his whites over a thumping heart, or over his greens for that matter.
For the first time since SA arrived in India what seems an age ago, Rabada was not in SA’s XI. He could eat his breakfast in peace, he could think about whatever he wanted to think about, his heart rate was normal when he pulled on his whites – and when he added an orange benchwarmer’s bib to his get-up.
The fourth test that started at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi on Thursday was somebody else’s challenge, not Rabada’s. But it was the challenge of Temba Bavuma and Dane Piedt, who cracked the nod having sat out the first three tests. They came in for Stiaan van Zyl and Simon Harmer.
Kyle Abbott, who flew in to Bangalore as the injured Vernon Philander’s emergency replacement for the second test but did not play in the third, stood in for Rabada.
This being the SA team, and Van Zyl and Harmer both being white while Bavuma and Piedt are both of colour – and nevermind that Rabada and Abbott are from opposite ends of the rainbow – the race question will be asked.
The answer is that Van Zyl is patently out of form and has scored 56 runs in five innings in the series – Bavuma couldn’t do much worse, even though like the man he has succeeded he will bat out of position – and that Harmer has proved in his return of 10/254 from two tests that he belongs at this level. So, considering the state of the series, why not see how ready Piedt is for England’s tour?
Bavuma will have the chance to put his half of that theory to the test on Friday, but he made a contribution on Thursday when Virat Kohli’s sweep smacked him on the thigh and looped upward to be caught by Dane Vilas diving forward from behind the stumps.
The bowler was Piedt, who is playing his first test since a shoulder injury interrupted a career that was cleared for take-off when he claimed match figures 8/152 on debut against Zimbabwe in Harare in August last year.
The off-spinner tore into his work like a dagger through a cloak, demanding more than appealling for his wickets.
The umpires agreed with Piedt often enough for him to become the first spinner to take four wickets on each of the first two days of his first two tests.
Rabada would have applauded heartily each of his compatriot’s successes, and gazed with mixed feelings on Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Imran Tahir.
As of Thursday they are the only men to have played both two T20s, all five ODIs, the tour match and all four tests on SA’s tour of India.