CHENNAI: Kagiso Rabada is just 20. You don’t have to second guess his age. The raw energy he works up every time he strides in gives it away. He has already kicked up a storm—bristling and snarling, rushing and hustling batsmen with pace and bounce, the prime weaponry of all prime fast bowlers. He will be winding up to whirl up another storm, more furious and more damaging.
If the Indian batsmen were coerced into thinking that South Africa’s bowling ammo possessed just the hyper-destructive pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, they were shellacked by the nuclear-tipped projectiles of Rabada in the ODIs. The joint-highest wicket-taker with the fast-bowling totem of this generation, Steyn, he has grown remarkably sharper and snarkier. He has already nailed Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli—two seminal characters he will likely bump into again in the Tests—twice in the ODI series. Rohit Sharma, who has always seemed blessed with the gift of the extra second, was beaten for pace in Indore.
Rabada is now a flickering glint in the eyes of his senior pros. There was a perceptible delight in Steyn’s voice when he spoke of the young pacer’s skills and work ethics. “He has a great attitude and has everything a fast bowler needs. He has pace, is well-built and is quite an intimidating guy. He’s asking the right questions in the nets and wants to improve all the time. Every time he takes the ball it’s exciting to watch him bowl. Everyone sits up when he comes into bowl and he has the attention already. He’ll have a wonderful career.”
But Test cricket is a different beast, and he has to yet make his Test debut. His rise has been rapid, a timeline that began at the end of November last year. But he has issued a stirring reminder of his gifts to the selectors, who will be tempted to overlook the accurate Vernon Philander. The latter is no man of straw himself, but is widely considered unequipped in the subcontinental conditions, where he has found it difficult to move the ball off the surface.
His inclusion will give further cutting edge to their attack, guaranteeing that Indian batsmen can’t afford any momentary lapse in focus and intensity. That said, Morkel and Steyn would be their trusted henchmen. At different stages of the limited-over installments, they have illustrated their ability to influence matches, and in Tests, their vigour would only be more pronounced. Steyn dropped a few hints at how they plan to approach the Indian batsmen: “All of us steam in and bowl really quickly at 145 plus. It’s difficult to get the quicker bowlers away. Guys who bowl at around 130-135 kmph, it’s slightly easier to face. Pace is the main weapon at the end of the day. Even if the wickets are slow it’s still really difficult to get away. ”
That South African seamers, bulwarked by Steyn, has been the most successful prolific bowling firm in Asia (in terms of average and strike rate) telegraph an ordeal for India batsmen. If the trio is let loose, the recurring theme might read something like this: “If Steyn can’t get you, Morkel will, and if both don’t, Rabada will.” And lest you forget, he is just 20.