On the eve of his 50th Test match, where the Proteas will go head-to-head against India at Newlands, Kagiso Rabada has vowed there’s more to come.
CAPE TOWN — There is always a great sense of anticipation when a strapping young fast bowler emerges on the international scene.
When he’s black and South African, it’s a double whammy that gets the excitement to blow through the roof as everyone in this country is acutely aware of the impact he potentially could have. Makhaya Ntini set the narrative and it was Kagiso Rabada’s to follow.
It was six years ago when “KG” Rabada strapped up his boots in the Mohali changeroom for the first time in Test cricket. On Tuesday he will be doing so for the 50th time at Newlands with 226 wickets at 22.57 in the bank.
It’s an achievement to savour, for Rabada has carried the burden of being South African cricket’s poster boy with distinction in an often volatile climate.
Any other 20-year-old — his debut age — may have detached himself from such responsibility, but Rabada has accepted that he needs to be the torch-bearer of all that is good in a country where things are not always that good.
It helps that he is not just an incredibly gifted athlete, but also a very smart human being.
There’s no doubt he’s felt the toll on both body and mind in recent years as he admitted to CSA Media ahead of the milestone.
“I think it’s quite special. I didn’t even know how many games I was on and only found out after the last Test match that this would be my 50th,” he said.
“It kind of really goes by without noticing. But it’s something special for me, I’ve always wanted to represent my country, so this is definitely a personal milestone and one that I’ll hold dear to my heart.
“There’s been lots of ups and downs, it’s definitely been challenging to keep good performances going for a long amount of time.
“It’s been tough navigating your way through the lows — I think that’s been quite difficult — and then also trying to get through the external pressures that can influence your game and also influence the team space.
“Those are things you have to get used to dealing and things you constantly learn how to deal with.
“At the end of the day you almost have to remind yourself to keep enjoying it and remember yourself as this youngster who just wanted to represent your country and show the world what you’re about.”
Its no coincidence that he’s had a trio of incredibly supportive captains throughout his Test career. His fledgling steps in the jungle of international cricket were supported by the wisdom of Hashim Amla before Faf du Plessis simply showered him with affection — even sometimes physical with a memorable kiss on the forehead in Perth.
But with every individual sometimes “tough love” is required the older one gets and current Proteas skipper Dean Elgar delivered the hair dryer treatment to his ace fast bowler during the last Test at the Wanderers just to remind Rabada of his status within South African cricket after a few below par performances.
True champions don’t deflect when criticised and Rabada responded with a firebrand performance that then lifted his teammates and enabled the Proteas to level the series against the World’s No 1 ranked India team.
“Happy and excited for KG. It’s happened so quickly. It still such an early stage of his career in my opinion. He is still only 26 and he’s already played 50 Tests. He still has so much cricket to offer us from a Test point of view. Hopefully long it may continue,” Elgar said.
“He has advanced so much. He has taken on so much responsibility as a cricketer. He has shown great growth in his journey throughout for us.”
After Quinton de Kock’s sudden Test retirement mid-way through this blockbusting India series, Elgar and the whole of Mzansi will be delighted to hear that Rabada has plenty of passion burning within him for the red ball and the purest form of the game.
“I still pinch myself to this day. It’s what dreams are made of,” he said. “As much as it is about taking wickets, it’s about being the best I can be and there’s no limit to that. I feel like I’m nowhere near done.
“It’s just about coming back and playing the next game. You can never take international cricket for granted.
“For me it’s about the longevity and not doing it for just a short amount of time. It’s about doing it for a long time and that’s what keeps driving me.”