Fast bowlers usually take five years to gain physical maturity but, Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes, Kagiso already has the hang of it.
He comes bearing (natural) gifts.
“He’s a clever boy, a natural athlete. He enjoys hard work and has phenomenal ability,” says Gordon Parsons, Rabada’s bowling coach at the Highveld Lions.
“At 21, he’s the best fast bowler I’ve ever seen at that age, including even Dale Steyn and Malcolm Marshall. Those guys grew into who they became. This guy’s just picked up the mantle.”
Lions head coach Geoffrey Toyana says one thing that overshadows Rabada’s other attributes is his bowling action:
“He’s got the perfect bowling action. We worry about him getting injured due to his workload and we have to manage him properly, but his bowling action will always look after him.”
“Great fast bowlers are born, not bred. He’s someone like Quinton de Kock or Allan Donald. He’s special.”
Skills set and work ethic
“When I first saw him as a 16-year-old, he already had control, even though he could bowl very fast,” says Toyana.
“But when he joined us at 19, we got him to do target bowling, where he had to land the ball in the right area working on yorkers and bouncers.
“The tough thing after that was getting him away from the nets because he’s so keen to improve. Too many bowlers are happy to come in to practise and bowl from 09:00 to 10:30.
KG comes in from 09:00 to 12:00, goes to gym and then comes back for another bowling spell.”
Parsons reckons franchise cricket has played the role of a finishing school:
“He played franchise cricket for a year, where he did the hard yards and got his 14-fer. He did all of that before playing for the Proteas when others, such as Wayne Parnell, didn’t.”
Toyana said Rabada’s hunger to improve was shown by his decision to play county cricket for Kent instead of signing for the Indian Premier League.
“That showed that he’s in it for the long run.”
“I’ve been training the Lions since 1994, and when you look at today’s 15- and 16-year-olds, they’re stronger than the Lions were then,” says conditioning coach Jeff Lunsky.
“A 16-year-old can bench-press 70kg to 90kg, when, in the old days, only one or two of the players could do it. The reason is we’re breeding a new breed of players, and KG’s old school, St Stithians, has helped.
“They have a good culture of physical training because former weightlifting coach Rodney Anthony is responsible for their strength training, so they’re training the right way. He taught them well, so KG came with a good base and I didn’t have to teach him much.
“He’s not amazingly flexible, fast or strong, but he’s pretty good at all of those things. The fact that he doesn’t get injured often means you can’t fault his flexibility.
"He averages 19.2 in his latest yo-yo test (a progressive shuttle run test modelled on the bleep test), which puts him on par with AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn on a good day.
"Guys like Stephen Cook, Eddie Leie and Temba Bavuma can get up to 20, but anything from 18 up is considered good. So he’s in the top 10% to 15% in the Proteas squad.”
Confidence and mental toughness
“He’s a leader who always wants the ball because he wants to make things happen. I once asked him why he never got a five-for at school and he said he was bowling so fast that, when the nicks came, the guys in the slips just couldn’t catch the ball,” says Toyana.
Parsons says: “Mental toughness is an individual thing and you could talk about the definition alone for hours. He’s driven because he wants to be the best bowler in the world. His desire is not for financial rewards...it is to be the best.”
Toyana backs up that observation with an anecdote from when Rabada got 14/105 against the Dolphins in a first-class game last year.
“He got five in the first innings, his first five-fer, but he came back and took another nine in the second innings. That tells you everything.”
A student of the game
“All he talks about is cricket; he talks about Malcolm Marshall. He’s always on YouTube looking at how Donald and Steyn bowl,” says Toyana.