Kagiso Rabada made his Test debut in November 2015 in India. Since then, the South African fast bowler has barely put a foot wrong with ball in hand.
The pacer is now 22 and after nearly two years in Test cricket, it’s the perfect time to assess his career. And judging by his 10-wicket haul against a hapless Bangladesh side in the second Test at Bloemfontein, it looks like Rabada is exactly where he should be.
Whenever an exciting young talent bursts onto the scene, one should wait for two seasons before considering the player as a long-term prospect.
Many things can happen in that period. A bowler can lose his shape after a promising start, can be overburdened by an eager team and pick up an injury or ultimately be worked out by opposition batsmen. It has happened before.
Sri Lankan mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis comes first to mind. 2008 was his year as he dismantled India in three Tests, picking up 26 wickets with his stupefying carom balls and wrong’uns. The very next year, his average shot up from under 19 to above 45.
He last played Tests in 2014, when he averaged over 40 in just two matches and has since faded from view as batsmen have solved any remaining mysteries regarding his bowling.
The next on that list is England seamer Steven Finn. Yes, he is still very much in the mix but is not the first-choice bowler he seemed destined to become when he started Tests in 2010.
His high-arm action and abundant pace provided him 46 wickets from 11 Tests at an average of 26 in 2010. Since then, a combination of indifferent form and fitness issues saw Finn in and out of the team.
Last year, the 28-year-old featured in nine Tests but his returns were far from impressive – 17 wickets at an average of more than 46.
Rabada seems to have negotiated the tricky first two years in the longest format spectacularly.
Last year, he picked up 46 wickets from nine matches at an average of 23.34 and this year, he is the highest wicket-taker in the longest format with 54 scalps from 10 matches at 20.96.
And he isn’t a one-format bowler either. Rabada’s played 15 ODIs in 2017, which makes for a substantial workload for a young man asked to lead the attack due to the change in fortunes of veteran quicks Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Rabada became the youngest South African to 100 Test wickets and if he maintains his fitness and the team manages his workload judiciously, many records will surely fall along the way.
With India touring South Africa in the beginning of next year, Rabada will hope to set the record straight against the one team against whom he doesn’t have a good record – two wickets in three Tests in India.
The Proteas will surely look to give their pace spearhead as much help as they can to rattle the top-ranked Test side. And if he does so, Rabada can claim to be the best bowler in the world.
WILL YASIR SHAH BREAK?
Pakistan leggie Yasir Shah has bowled the most number of overs in Test cricket in the last three years. In 28 Tests, Shah’s workload has been 1541.1 overs which turns out to a remarkable average of more than 28 overs per innings.
The next in the list is Aussie offspinner Nathan Lyon (1502.5 overs in 36 Tests) and India’s Ravi Ashwin (1497.2 overs from 31 Tests).
As if the rigours of being the only specialist spinner in the Pakistan team weren’t enough, Shah has to now tackle the new fitness parameters that every Pakistan international player has to meet.
The leg-spinner passed a late fitness test before being made available for the current Sri Lanka series. Since the 31-year-old is a Test match specialist, failing the fitness test would have been catastrophic not only for him but the team as well.
Shah is now pushing his body more than ever to churn out the overs as Pakistan move to a three pacer/one spinner strategy and the team management puts in stricter standards for fitness.
If Shah thought bowling all those overs in the last three years were difficult, it will only get tougher as he is expected to raise his fitness and workload substantially after 31 years of age.
Hats off to him for enduring all this with a smile on his face.