London - He’s only just turned 22 but on the eve of the ICC Champions Trophy, Proteas speedster Kagiso Rabada is already on top of the world.
The exciting young paceman has lit up the global game over the last two years, during which time he has become South Africa’s leading quick bowler, moving ahead of his esteemed but injury-plagued colleagues Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
The Proteas enter the ICC Champions Trophy as the world’s No 1-ranked ODI side and, thanks to a haul of 4-39 in the third ODI against England at Lord’s which helped to blow away the hosts for 153, Radaba goes in as the No 1 bowler in ODI cricket.
His winning combination of pace, bounce and sideways movement enabled him to leapfrog teammate Imran Tahir, with the leg-spinner dropping down to No 2. The move made Rabada the youngest player to reach the top of the ODI bowling rankings since Saqlain Mushtaq in 1998.
In his 37 ODIs before the tournament, Rabada has taken 64 wickets at an average of 24.90, with an economy rate of 5.13. He’s taken four four-wicket hauls including a best of 6-16 on debut against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2015.
Reflecting on his rankings achievement, Rabada was determined not to be distracted from the job in hand and thinks his team is in good form despite the recent series defeat to England.
“I’m surprised! I didn’t expect that at all. But nothing changes; you have to get into each game looking to do your best,” Rabada told the ICC’s official website.
“I think we’ve been playing really good cricket, even though we haven’t been winning. We won our last one which will give us some confidence.”
And he is confident that knocking Tahir off top spot will not cause any bad feeling between the pair.
“I didn’t even know about it! I don’t think he did either. Even if he does, nothing will change. Immy’s a good guy, we get along with each other in the team, so there wouldn’t be any issue - maybe a bit of banter.”
And while topping the bowling charts at the ICC Champions Trophy would clearly be a bonus, Rabada’s eyes are fixed firmly on the team prize.
“It will be a nice achievement but I’m concentrating on the team and what I have to do. If I don’t win it and we win the Champions Trophy, I don’t really care about it!”
More generally, fans of fast bowling will be excited to hear that despite regularly topping the 90mph (145kph) mark, Rabada is still eyeing up increases in pace as his body continues to develop.
“We’ll see. With the necessary training… with the fitness trainer we’ll see if we can add some scientific biomechanics where I can pick up some speed.”
Boasting the top two bowlers as well as four of the top 10 batsmen - AB de Villiers (1), Quinton de Kock (4), Faf du Plessis (6) and Hashim Amla (10) - the South Africans look well placed for the tournament ahead, with Rabada given his first chance to star in a senior global ICC event.
The world’s No 1 ODI side begin their ICC Champions Trophy campaign against Sri Lanka at The Oval on Saturday, June 3.