TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
FAST bowlers are among sport’s most emphatic stars, and Kagiso Rabada was at the top of that class at Centurion this week when he ripped through England’s batting order for the second time in just more than three days to claim match figures of 13/144.
But Rabada delivered the most impressive moment of his performance with deceptive subtlety far from the pitch and after he had bowled South Africa to victory by 280 runs in the fourth test to take some of the sting out of England’s 2-1 series win.
As the man-of-the-match, Rabada accompanied South Africa’s captain, AB de Villiers, to the post-match press conference. That chore done, the players stepped off the podium. Which was when Rabada really showed his class.
Rabada was ahead of De Villiers as they emerged from behind the table. But, with sleight of body difficult to believe by a man 1.9 metres tall, he took a half-step to his right and waited a split second for De Villiers to pass him. Come on, skipper, lead the way.
It was as effective a manouvere as it was understated, which is as useful an analogy for the clean, fluid, uncomplicated lines of Rabada’s bowling action as it is for the 20-year-old himself.
“He went to a good school,” Barry Lambson, who besides being a veteran first-class umpire and match referee, was Rabada’s matric science teacher at St Stithians in Johannesburg, offered as an explanation.
What kind of pupil did Rabada make?
“His science teacher tried hard, he tried hard; but he wasn’t in class much because of his cricket commitments.”
Lambson did not coach Rabada – “I umpired the games he played for the school and chirped him for bowling wides and no-balls” – but he knew he was in the presence of a cracking cricketer.
“I told the headmaster a number of years ago, ‘This gentleman has the quality to play for South Africa, easily’.
“He makes it look so easy. He’s got the quality, he’s got the proper build – he was never injured at school – and he’s got the attitude.
“He didn’t take as many wickets as he should have. But that was because he was the scare factor from the one end. The bowlers at the other end took most of the wickets.
“He’s matured quickly since he left school, where he’ll admit he was a bit lazy. Now he knows what he can do.
“He was a bit casual in his approach to everything, but his attitude has got better since he left school. He knows what’s expected of him and he hasn’t let it go to his head.”
Geoff Toyana, Rabada’s coach at the Highveld Lions, concurred: “He’s not overawed by anything. He’s quite quiet in the dressingroom. If you walked in when he was there you would never say this is the player everybody is talking about. I don’t think success will change him in any way.”
That said, sometimes Rabada’s quietness hides a naughty streak.
“It’s just the usual kind of dressingroom prank, but you won’t see what he’s done because he will run away and hide somewhere,” Toyana said. “You’ll never believe it because he’s so quiet. But there he is hiding in the corner and smiling.”
Rabada shares the Lions dressingroom with Eddie Leie and Temba Bavuma, and thereby hangs many a jolly jape.
“Temba doesn’t understand Tswana, because he’s from Cape Town and speaks Xhosa,” Toyana said. “So Eddie and Kagiso will joke about Temba in Tswana, and Temba will ask, ‘What are you guys saying about me!’.”
Rabada’s competitiveness emerged in a conversation he had with the Lions’ English-born bowling coach, Gordon Parsons, before the fourth test. At issue was how best to deal with England batsman Joe Root.
“He sent Gordon a text saying, ‘I’m going to get your boy’,” Toyana said. “The next day he did get him, and he sent Gordon a text saying, ‘I told you so’.”
Toyana said Rabada had a wide-ranging interest in the game – and held ambitions that went beyond taking wickets.
“He talks plenty of cricket, about the West Indian greats, about Allan Donald, about Graeme Pollock. It’s because he considers himself an allrounder, and in a few years he could develop into that.
“He’s never satisfied with his performance. He doesn’t just want to play for South Africa. He wants to perform for South Africa.”
He also wants to perform onstage, what with two of his songs, dance tracks “Keep on Holding” and “Adrenaline”, for sale on iTunes.
That was where Toyana ran out of nice things to say about Rabada: “He thinks he’s cool, but he can’t dance to save his life.”
But he can bowl, and that matters most right now.
Five things you didn’t know about Rabada
1. Rabada arrived at St Stithians as a rugby player first and a batsman second. Fast bowling came after he had resolved issues with his action that now seems seamless.
2. Innocent Radebe, the Sharks under-21 flyhalf, was a contemporary of Rabada’s at St Stithians. He, of course, arrived as a cricketer.
3. Rabada’s date of birth, May 25, 1995, was the same day the Rugby World Cup kicked off in SA.
4. Rabada never took a five-wicket haul at school, which would have earned him the honour of having a tree planted in his name. So, when he took 6/25 against Australia in the semi-final of the 2014 under-19 World Cup is Dubai, he asked St Stithians for a tree. His request was granted.
5. Rabada is a natural and talented actor, and played prominent roles in school productions at St Stithians.
Rabada by the numbers
1 – that’s the position Rabada, 20, holds among the youngest South Africans to own a 10-wicket haul in tests after his 13/144 against England at Centurion.
1 – Rabada is the youngest fast bowler to have taken 13 or more wickets in a test. The youngest bowler to have done so overall is Indian leg spinner Narendra Hirwani, who was 19 years and 85 days old when he snapped up 16/136 against West Indies in Chennai in 1988.
1 – Rabada’s raid is the best performance by a bowler at Centurion in the 21 tests played there. Mitchell Johnson, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Makhaya Ntini are the bowlers who have grabbed 10 there.
13 – how many runs too many Rabada conceded at Centurion. Had he gone for 13 fewer, he would have surpassed Makhaya Ntini’s 13/132 against West Indies in Port of Spain in 2005 as the best test match figures by a South African.
3 – the number of players who have taken 13 wickets in a test for SA. The other member of the club is Hugh Tayfield, who did it twice.
6/16 – Rabada’s return in a one-day international against Bangladesh in Dhaka in July, not only the best performance by a South African in the format but the best by an ODI debutant from any country.
2 – how many bowlers have claimed a haul of at least six wickets in test and one-day cricket before they turned 21. Rabada is one. The other guy is someone called Waqar Younis.
1 – South Africans who have claimed a hat-trick on ODI debut. You guessed it – Rabada.
1991 – when Allan Donald bagged 5/29 against India in Kolkata, the previous time a South African took five or more wickets in their first ODI.
0 – how many five-wicket hauls Rabada took while he was at St Stithians.