Being Kagiso Rabada

TMG Digital


IT said plenty about the strange state of SA cricket that on the same day that Kagiso Rabada became the undisputed champion of Cricket SA’s (CSA) annual awards, the suits revealed that race quotas in national teams were to be formalised.

On Tuesday morning CSA said they would “introduce targets for all the national teams”. This was old news, not least because they admitted on April 18 last year that the selectors followed “transformation guidelines which require the panel to consider, on merit, the election of at least four players of colour in the starting XI”.

On Tuesday evening Rabada walked away with a record six prizes of the eight he was eligible to win, including the Cricketer of the Year trophy.

Rabada is black African. He is also the best thing to happen to cricket in this country in years.

Rabada’s blackness is as indisputable as his quality as a cricketer. He is, in both senses, the real deal.

But, as the son of a doctor and an alumnus of an exclusive school, he is unarguably a product of the middle class.

So Makhaya Ntini, whose talent was spotted by development officials in the dirt-poor, cricket-rich Eastern Cape village of Mdingi, and Rabada might as well be from different worlds. 

Ntini’s success was an example of cricket’s transformation system working as it should. Rabada’s is an example of South Africa becoming a better, fairer place for blacks. In that sense their contrasting experience represents progress.

But these truths must give all who dare to wade into the race debate in SA sport pause for thought.

Which factors that have made Rabada the player he is and will, considering he is only 21, make him even better in years to come matter more than others?

Rabada probably doesn’t remember a time when SA wasn’t a democracy. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what it means to be black in a country in some ways more starkly divided along racial lines than it was in 1994, especially as he plays a game that many of his white compatriots consider their cultural property.

Happily, Rabada doesn’t know what it feels like to be slurred as a player who is thought to have been given his place in a team because of quotas or “targets” or whatever it is the suits try to call them.

Even more happily, Rabada is part of a family who have been able to give him the opportunities he needed to take important steps towards fulfilling his potential.

Most happily, he took those steps with his own two feet.

But what is CSA saying by lumping one young player with all this adulation, even if all those baubles are laden more marketing than meaning?

Are we to believe that black players have to be as good as Rabada to make it? That players even slightly older than his 21 years, regardless of race, have little chance of being as successful? Or that SA’s reserves of excellence have run so low that hardly anyone besides Rabada deserves the all that limelight?

As long as Rabada remains as good as he is, few will make serious attempts to answer those questions.

But while we’re at it here’s another, and it is perhaps the most important – why is Rabada regarded as a freak who couldn’t possibly achieve what he has so early in his career and so spectacularly without some kind of undue help? The same shadow has dogged Caster Semenya, albeit far more unfairly.

Rabada is as good as he is black, a truth that should be accepted by the public and CSA alike and not used as a hiding place for prejudice and insecurity.

It really is that simple. And that complicated.


SACA surprised by CSA quota call

TMG Digital


SOUTH Africans who discovered unexpectedly that race quotas would be part of the selectorial equation at national level are in interesting company – the SA Cricketers’ Association (SACA) were also in the dark.

Cricket SA (CSA) said on Tuesday they would “introduce targets for all the national teams” without stipulating the required racial breakdown. Currently, the stated number of players of colour the selectors aim to include in the XI is four.

SACA, the players’ official representatives at an administrative level, might have expected to be privy to plans to revise that policy.

But Tony Irish, SACA’s chief executive, said that had not happened: “The announcement was a bit of a surprise as we weren’t aware that the issue was being discussed by the CSA board.” 

CSA president Chris Nenzani did not respond when he was asked why SACA were not consulted.

The move could be an attempt by CSA to achieve the racial representivity they have agreed to in a memorandum of understanding signed with the sports ministry, the details of which have not been made public.

However, sports minister Fikile Mbalula has called for 60% of players in all national teams to be of colour.

CSA’s failure, by 5%, to meet that quota has resulted in Mbalula stopping them from bidding to host major tournaments.

Mbalula is empowered to put further pressure on CSA, including stopping their teams from playing international cricket.

Asked whether SACA were concerned that CSA’s decision would prompt the retirement of white players, Irish did not answer.

But he was satisfied with CSA’s intention, as expressed by Nenzani on Tuesday to “achieve our targets over the course of the year and not on a match-by-match basis”.

Irish said that approach was “a more sustainable way of dealing with it in the national team”.

Rabada passes test with distinction

TMG Digital


FIRST Kagiso Rabada collected six trophies at Cricket SA’s (CSA) awards function in Johannesburg on Tuesday. Then he spoke to reporters about his family, his friends, his coaches and the team he plays for – everyone but himself.

Perhaps Rabada’s fast bowler’s ego, like the rest of the 21-year-old, remains a work in progress. Which only boggles the mind. If he is this good after one season of international cricket, how much better will he be after five?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This will do for now. And how – Cricketer of the Year and all that other jazz after only six tests, 20 one-day internationals and 16 T20s is the stuff of legends in the making.

That said, one golden summer, no matter how golden, is only one golden summer. What comes next matters more.

“There’s going to be a lot more expectation, obviously,” Rabada said. “I’ll have to find a way to deal with it. It will be another challenge.

“You have to overcome fears, and not just on the cricket field. I can’t control whether I get wickets or not. I’ll just try and keep things simple, look after my preparation and try and live life a bit; not take it too seriously.”

And that was almost the extent of the words Rabada spent on himself, except to acknowledge that “I have worked quite hard”. Most of the rest of what he said was reserved for other people in his life.

“My family have been unbelievable. They’re the ones who’ve shaped me to be the person I am today. Without them I wouldn’t be who I am.

“All the coaches who’ve helped me – Gordon Parson and Jeff Toyana (both of the Lions) – there are so many. Without their contribution I wouldn’t have half the knowledge I have now.

“The culture is really good in the (SA) team. They’ve welcomed me really nicely and that’s allowed me to let loose. That’s very encouraging and you need it – it’s not all on you.

“Everyone has their time when they would like to achieve things individually. But it’s important, when you’re playing a team sport, that you put the team first.

“Everyone wants to play for SA. Why do you want to play for SA? Because you want to do it for you, but you want to do if for your country, too.

“So it’s a balance. You need to find the right balance but the team comes first.”

Future generations also had their place in Rabada’s warm, wide, welcoming embrace.

“When I was young the players I am blessed to play with now inspired me to do the things I am doing today. A lot of people have done great things and when they do that has the power to inspire a lot of people. I think whoever looks up to me might feel inspired.”

Many of those Rabada will inspire to follow in his footsteps will be black, a fact not lost on him.

“(It’s) just like our Protea motto, ‘To those before us, to those to come, today, tomorrow, we’ll play as one’. It’s a culture that we’re trying to enforce. It’s getting there, and it’s something we all want to do and buy into.

“It’s not only myself and Temba (Bavuma). It’s every single person in the SA cricket team.”

But there was a smidgen of Rabada himself left after all that.

“A lot of players who play for their country are true champions and they’re not scared of any battle. That’s where the test is – to see if you can be the best.”

So far, Rabada has passed that test with distinction.

Suits own up to race quotas at national level

TMG Digital


THE worst kept secret in SA cricket was revealed on Tuesday when the suits owned up to race quota selection at national level.

The news came in the form of a Cricket SA (CSA) release that said the organisation would “introduce targets for all the national teams”.

However, CSA admitted on April 18, 2015 – in the wake of the exposure of administrators meddling in the SA team that took the field in the World Cup semi-final – that the SA men’s team was picked according to “transformation guidelines which require the (selection) panel to consider, on merit, the election of at least four players of colour in the starting XI”.

Not that that is enough to meet sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s stipulation that at least 60% of all national teams should be comprised of black players, which was established after federations individually agreed memoranda of understanding with the ministry.

CSA have already been punished for falling short of that mark by 5%: Mbalula has barred them from bidding to host major tournaments until their transformation numbers add up.

So something seemed amiss with Tuesday’s statement, which quoted CSA president Chris Nenzani as saying: “In the past we had never set targets in our national teams but with changing circumstances we feel it is essential to move with the times.

“The precise targets will depend on work to be undertaken by relevant committees to determine what is realistic and sustainable. This will be announced in due course.

“We will aim to achieve our targets over the course of the year and not on a match-by-match basis.”

CSA will also try to revitalise their T20 tournament from the 2017-18 season. The plan includes the “separation of this competition from the other franchise competitions”, involves “an optimal number of eight teams” and will be played over four to six weeks with the final scheduled for December 16.

That’s a public holiday – the Day of Reconciliation. If only CSA could reconcile Tuesday’s statement with what they said on April 18, 2015.

Rabada rocks CSA awards

TMG Digital


YOU can have any award winner you like as long as his name is Kagiso Rabada, who strode the stage to collect six trophies at a Cricket SA (CSA) function in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Rabada scooped the prizes for test and one-day cricketer of the year, the players’ player of the year, the fans’ player of the year, the delivery of the year, and the most important honour – the cricketer of the year.

The fast bowler’s haul of six accolades is a SA record, beating the five AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla have earned in past years.

CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat noted in a statement that Rabada had the “humility and level-headedness that you would normally associate with a senior player”.

Rabada, just more than two months past his 21st birthday, is the youngest player to be named SA’s cricketer of the year. Despite his age, all that seems left for him to achieve in awards terms is to join Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Amla and De Villiers as the only players to wear that mantle twice.

However, Rabada did leave a couple of crumbs for his teammates. Imran Tahir was SA’s T20 player of the year and Temba Bavuma won the “So Good” award. Those were the only trophies Rabada was eligible for that he did not claim.

Stephen Cook’s century on test debut against England at Centurion made him the newcomer of the year, while Dane van Niekerk was the women’s cricketer of the year.

AD! AD! AD! Aussie? Aussie? Aussie?

TMG Digital


HOW good a bowling coach is Allan Donald? We might be able to answer to that question when his former team, SA, meet his current employers, Australia, next season.

Officially, Donald’s involvement with the Aussies will end on September 9, the last day of their tour to Sri Lanka. Unofficially, his tenure could be extended to include a one-day series in SA later in September and the test series AB de Villiers’ men will play in Australia starting in November.

South Africans already know what it feels like to have their pace ace plot against them. The memory of him clad in black and white, Silver Fern and all, and sitting on a cooler box just beyond the boundary in Dhaka on March 25, 2011 as SA imploded in their World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand looms like a spectre.

But Australia are the only measuring stick who matter in SA cricket, and if Donald is in their dugout when the teams clash in the coming months a compelling sub-plot will unfold.

Not least because his SA successor, Charl Langeveldt, has earned his keep. Indeed, the batsmen should carry more of the can than the bowlers for most of the 20 losses SA have suffered in the 47 games they have played since Langeveldt came on board.

His emphasis has been on improving skills, emphasising variation and tightening discipline. Donald seems to focus on aggression.

“I think Australia have been more aggressive just in their nature, and I think sometimes we (SA) have succumbed to that aggression a little bit in terms of being intimidated,” Donald said in one of his first interviews in the other green and gold.

How well are the Aussies warming to Donald? Well enough, considering Mitchell Starc’s comments.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with ‘AD’ in the Indian Premier League with Bangalore for a couple of years, so I know him a bit better than some of the other bowlers,” Starc told reporters in Sri Lanka.

“He’s been great. He’s toured Sri Lanka maybe five or six times. So that’s more than our other bowlers – take out ‘Gaz’ from that group – have done.

“It’s great to get his thoughts on reverse swing and swinging the new ball, and maybe some of the ways the Sri Lankans have played in the past.”

Who might ‘Gaz’ be? Off-spinner Nathan Lyon. Why? Because he’s “not as good as Warne”.

That’s as succinct an encapsulation of the Australian approach to everything as can be found, as well as good reason to look forward to how SA fare against them – and, perchance, Donald – next season.

AB in the eye of a storm

Sunday Times


AS a hellishly hot afternoon surrendered to a sticky evening, the captain of a cricket team tore hither and thither like a dangerously caffeinated Jack Russell terrier.

Gloves and pads marked him out as the wicketkeeper but he was only ever behind the stumps for the nano-second he might need to secure the ball.

For the rest, he zigged here, he zagged there. He had something to say to everyone. And all with his wide eyes flashing panic. Clearly, he didn’t have a cooking clue what he was doing.

It had all been so different on his first-class debut almost 10 years earlier, when he had opened the batting and scored half-centuries in both innings.

“I thought to myself, ‘This oke, he can hurt you as a bowler’,” Alan Dawson, who opened the bowling for the opposition in that match, said of the man who would be captain.

“He kept it simple, he wasn’t flash at all. He was so organised – if there was a bad ball it went for four. It didn’t look like he was exerting himself; it just happened.”

Almost 10 years on the captain had learnt to look like he was exerting himself. His team had scored 301/8 in their 50 overs. He had smacked 52 off 40 balls himself. That was the easy bit.

Now he had to keep a grip on his men as they ripped through their opponents like a rocket through space.

The first wicket fell to the second ball of an innings that soon lurched to 2/4, 3/8, 4/9, 5/9 … it was over in less than two hours: all out for 43. Thanks for coming.

Finally, that captain, who had led a team, any team, for the first time could pause for breath.

“It wasn’t the test I was hoping for, I wasn’t tested at all,” AB de Villiers said after the opening match of Sri Lanka’s one-day series in Paarl on January 11, 2012.

“My real test will come when we’re under pressure. Tonight was really easy but I know it will get a lot harder.”

And how. Next August, after he has lead SA’s test team in away series in Australia and England, De Villiers’ worth as a captain will be known.

“Massive,” was how Dawson described that challenge. Not that he thought De Villiers wasn’t up to it.

“He’s going to play to win,” Dawson said. “That’s the right approach and that’s going to rub off on the team.

“He’s the type of guy you want to impress. The guys won’t want to let him down.”

Which could have been said about De Villiers’ predecessor, Hashim Amla, who got out of the kitchen in the middle of the home series against England last season.

But Dawson saw contrasts: “South Africans like a guy like AB de Villiers, who’s out front. ‘Hash’ is very reserved and doesn’t open up much.”

Did Heino Kuhn think his friend and teammate since childhood was on the brink of the test he was hoping for on  that hot night in Paarl?

“Definitely, especially considering where we are in the rankings,” Kuhn said. “We’ve gone down five spots and quickly.”

But Kuhn was confident De Villiers could fix what was broken: “If there’s one guy who’s capable of turning things around it’s him. We need that. He’ll bring some life back to the Proteas.”

All that said, captains are only as good as their teams. What happens if De Villiers leads like a champ and his side play like chumps?

“He’ll retire from international cricket and go play T20 cricket around the world,” an insider said. “He’s got to make a business decision and he’s good enough to find a job anywhere in the cricket world.”

A storm brews in SA cricket. De Villiers needs to be kept firmly in its eye.