DUBAI // Exactly a year ago, when Kagiso Rabada was in the final year of secondary school at the St Stithians Boy’s college in Sandton, Johannesburg, he got his lucky break.
Initially overlooked for the South Africa Under 19 side’s two-Test series against England, he was brought into the side for the second match after Craig Kirsten was injured.
On his debut, batting at No 11, Rabada made 46 and picked up two wickets in the second innings as South Africa won by 67 runs and levelled the series. He has kept his place in the side ever since and on Friday made a deep impression on the U19 World Cup as a wicked spell at the top of the innings left the West Indies reeling at three for one and four for 16.
On a surface that was not that pacey, Rabada clocked speeds of above 135kph consistently and picked up three wickets in his first spell of six overs. It set up South Africa’s 94-run win after they had been restricted to 198 for nine.
While each of his three wickets were well thought out, it was his persistence with line and length that stood out. The bouncer that hit Nicolas Pooran on his helmet grill made for quite a statement.
Rabada could equally have been playing rugby.
Though Rabada took up cricket at the age of nine, his primary interest lay in rugby. Naturally quick as a bowler right from the start, he was persuaded by his school coach to think about a career in cricket. Since then, his “love for the game has only grown”. Unlike many other youngsters in South Africa, Rabada had a fortunate upbringing. He had access to facilities to improve his game and says he feels “blessed”.
Rabada, of course, is not the first South African fast bowler to have made a name at the U19 level. Matthew Arnold, Wayne Parnell and Rabian Engelbrecht are few of the names to have done well in previous youth World Cups. The common factor between them all is Ray Jennings, the long-standing South Africa U19 coach.
Jennings knows that many bowlers have fallen by the wayside after sparkling at the junior level. He, however, is hopeful that Rabada has the required traits that should hold him in good stead in the future. Jennings, until recently the coach of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, feels anything is possible for Rabada because “fast bowlers are always in demand” as “they change the momentum of games”.
Rabada’s immediate focus is to contribute to South Africa’s success in the tournament, before he sits down to chart out his future.
Last year, Rabada took a break from education since he was a part of the Lions, the domestic South African franchise. However, he wants to study law next year and is determined to complete his degree, “no matter how long it takes”.
If his strike rate with the ball continues to ascend, he may have to put on hold permanently his plans to be a lawyer.
Sidhanta Patnaik is a reporter for www.wisdenindia.com. You can follow tweets @WisdenIndia