TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
YOU could hear the nation gasp when the Delhi Daredevils signed Kagiso Rabada for R9.8-million, and not only because a 21-year-old had more money than he could count.
For months, Rabada’s escalating workload has generated a correspondingly escalating burble of concern.
To be talented and black in modern South Africa is to be dogged by a double-edged sword of Damocles.
That cut both ways for Rabada last year, when he confirmed his class as among the very best young fast bowlers in the game.
One measure of that was that he took more test wickets in 2016 than Josh Hazlewood, James Anderson, Trent Boult or Mohammad Amir despite playing fewer tests than any of them.
The other edge of the sword was that Rabada bowled more overs across all formats for South Africa in 2016 than anyone else: 431.3.
If had bowled all of those overs non-stop he would have sent down almost an entire test match worth of deliveries on his own.
And now this, off to the IPL, a tournament with a reputation for squeezing the last drops of blood, sweat and tears out of its well-paid slaves.
What shape will Rabada be in when he returns in the second week of May having played up to 11 games?
But there’s a happy twist to this tale.
Rabada’s head coach at the Daredevils is Paddy Upton, a former South Africa team director and among the most innovative thinkers in any dugout.
“I can wear my Delhi Daredevils cap only and say, ‘Right, we’re going get as much as possible out of you for 11 games’,” Upton told Sunday Times from Dubai.
“But (Daredevils mentor) Rahul Dravid and myself have always been about developing players in their careers, and the time we spend with them is just a part of that journey.
“We try and help them not only to have a good IPL but to enhance and further their career.
“The IPL is part of the 11-month season. We understand that.
“There are teams who try and get every cent and every moment of every day out of the players.
“If players aren’t managed well and cognisance isn’t taken of the whole year you end up with a burnt out player at the end of an IPL. So it doesn’t serve anyone.”
But Upton won’t have Rabada for the sharp end of the competition. What’s to stop him sending a drained man home?
“You could do that, but it’s a short-term view and I’m not in the coaching game for short-term views,” Upton said.
Besides, “If he plays all 11 games he will end up bowling 44 overs in six weeks. That’s not a lot of overs to bowl in six weeks. That’s four-and-a-half one-day games in a month-and-a-half.”
The devil, Upton said, was in the details.
“If we make him bowl at every compulsory practice, and sit on the bus for an hour to get to practice and another hour home, that’s what kills players.
“I would like to think that Rahul and myself really do understand the value of rest and fresh players, and that, for example, an extra four practices is not going to take Kagiso’s game forward in any way. That would probably undermine his game.”
And there’s a significant upside.
“The IPL is the single best learning environment that a cricketer could wish to be in,” Upton said.
“He’s going to be spending six weeks in the richest learning academy in cricket.”
Rabada will also bowl to players he will tangle with on the world stage for years yet.
That’s what the IPL does for cricket and cricketers. Can the nation stop gasping already?