Kagiso Rabada hasn’t had a quiet 2019 by any measure, being the fourth-highest wicket-taker among fast bowlers – 44 at an average of 28.65 – across the three formats. But with Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer the toast of the season, Rabada is no longer at the forefront of public memory.
Part of it is also down to South Africa’s underwhelming showing at the World Cup, where they were knocked out in the group stage. But while the 24-year-old fast bowler is not fussed about not being the talk of the town as far as the chatter around young fast bowlers goes, the collective underperformance of the South African side has left him “disappointed”, if not “angry”.
“It’s never easy maintaining a career; I’ve learned that there are a lot of ups and downs. I want to be the best in the world, everybody does,” Rabada told iol.co.za. “You are naturally going to compete in that fashion, I’m not too worried, I’m feeling nice and easy.
“I’m disappointed, not angry [about the World Cup]. What do I do with anger? When a setback comes you want to be determined, you don’t want to change a lot of things. It’s about seeing where you went wrong and then putting in extra work.”
“Archer is such a natural talent; Bumrah is doing wonders and that can force you to lift your game.”
Two months shy of completing five years in international cricket, Rabada has collected 176 Test wickets at an average of 21.77 and strike rate of 38.8. The corresponding numbers in the limited-overs formats are as impressive: 117 ODI wickets at 27.34, and 25 wickets in 19 T20Is.
However, Rabada’s average and strike rate in Tests this year have been squarely overshadowed by those of Bumrah and Archer. While the South African has picked 19 wickets at an average of 23.57, striking every 36.8 balls in Tests, Bumrah and Archer have collected 14 and 13 Tests wickets respectively, at averages of 13.14 and 21, and strike rates of 30.9 and 47.1 respectively.
“I admire those bowlers, they are good bowlers,” Rabada, who will have an opportunity to better his figures in the upcoming T20I and Test series in India, said when asked about Bumrah and Archer. “However, the media hypes certain players, and that’s OK; I know I have been playing very well. Archer is such a natural talent; Bumrah is doing wonders and that can force you to lift your game. You are not always at the top, that’s one thing I can tell you.”
Currently part of a pre-tour camp in Pretoria, Rabada will be spearheading a pace attack in Tests that will be without the recently-retired Dale Steyn on the tour of India. Given South Africa lost their last Test series in India 3-0, in 2015, having won both the limited-overs legs of the tour, Rabada hopes for an improved performance from the Test side with the knowledge of “terrible” tracks holding them in good stead.
“You need to figure out what you need to do to give the team a better chance to win that is what I try to focus on,” Rabada, who made his Test debut on that tour in 2015, told PTI. “When you have played there before you will have an idea of what to do in certain tough situations.
“The previous tour we were successful because we won the T20 and ODI series but the Test series was a bit of a shambles because those wickets were just terrible. If I could give an example the first Test match it was 200 v 200 in first innings. If we batted first it was going to be a different ball game because we ended up having to chase the game. We lost 3-0 and we were truly hammered.”
In what will be the team’s first assignment since their World Cup exit, South Africa will play three T20Is starting September 15 followed by as many Tests in Visakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi, starting October 2. Their last Test series win in India came way back in 2000, and their most recent outings in the longest format on Asian soil, too, ended in despair, with Sri Lanka crushing them 2-0 in 2018.
With spin likely to be a key factor again, Rabada underlined that the prior experience of playing in India could help the majority of the South Africa players fashion better individual results than what the Sri Lanka Tests yielded.
“On our recent tour to Sri Lanka it was tricky conditions,” Rabada said. “There is a whole lot of talk about how to approach spin but we will see how it goes. What helps is that there are guys who have played there in the past and I guess what you can do is to use what worked and what did not work during the Sri Lanka tour to have a base.
“When you go there for the first time it’s weird and you don’t know what to do. If you look at how Faf [du Plessis] batted in Sri Lanka, he got good starts which showed that he had played there and knew the conditions.”