London - South Africa great Barry Richards believes the rise
of Kagiso Rabada has "lessened the pain" of Dale Steyn's absence
ahead of a Test series in England.
Steyn, perhaps the best fast bowler of his generation, has
been ruled out of the four-Test campaign with a longstanding shoulder problem
that has sidelined him since the end of last year.
But Rabada has helped fill the gap, the 22-year-old quick
taking 71 wickets in 17 Tests at an impressively low average of 23.69 since
making his debut against India at Mohali in November 2015.
"I think a lot of people were really wobbly about Steyn
and the injuries he's had, the age group, he's in," said Richards, the
outstanding opening batsman of the early 1970s, in London on Thursday.
"Then Rabada popped out of the woodwork and he's been
absolutely fantastic. He bowls at a good pace, nice, easy action. If conditions
are right, he'll swing it way which is a real asset for a fast bowler,"
added Richards, speaking at an event staged by Test series sponsors Investec.
"From a South African point of view, he's been
fantastic for us and really lessened the pain of Dale Steyn not being in the
"But I think our fast-bowling stocks are pretty good.
(Chris) Morris as an all-rounder, and then (Morne) Morkel - he always looks
like he should do well but he always bowls that yard too short for me, so even
when his good ball beats the bat it goes over the stumps."
Renowned swing bowler Vernon Philander missed the Proteas'
three-day warm-up match against the second-string England Lions that started
Thursday with an ankle injury suffered while playing for English county side
Sussex a fortnight ago and Richards said: "Vernon is a worry for us for
this coming series because he's been in and out of injury.
"He's fantastic when he's on song but he needs need to
keep his pace above 128 kph (79.5 mph). If his pace falls below that, he
doesn't become as effective because it doesn't nip as quick you can adjust. But
it's hard to bowl at 128 and above for 20 overs a day.
"If there's a little bit in the wicket, he's a major
South Africa could give a debut in next week's first Test at
Lord's to 33-year-old opener Heino Kuhn, who scored a double century and a
century for South Africa A against Hampshire and the England Lions respectively
on their recent tour of England.
The Proteas have struggled to find an opening partner for
Dean Elgar since Graeme Smith's retirement but hopes are high that Kuhn could
help fill the void left by the former captain.
"He's been around the traps for 12, 13 years now, been
a big push for him to be included," said Richards, whose career was
limited to four Tests, in which he scored two hundreds and averaged over 72, by
South Africa's apartheid-enforced isolation.
"He's mentally pretty strong but there's always
pressure. A Test match is a pressure, Lord's is a pressure, your first Test
match is a pressure. Stephen Cook, he's 34, he's had a go and they've been
battling to get that position right.
"But if he (Kuhn) does it well, he's got a (Test)
career for three or four years."
Richards said much would depend on star No 3 batsman Hashim
Amla, now 34, being exposed too early in the innings, for all he has scored
nearly 8 000 Test runs at a shade under 50 - including a highest score of 311
not out against England at The Oval in 2012.
"He's starting to realise that everything that used to
work so well at 25, doesn't work so well at 34," said Richards, who
himself once scored 325 runs in a day's play during a first-class match for South
Australia against Western Australia at Perth in 1970/71.
"One of the key parts of the series is Hashim Amla
versus the fast bowlers and Hashim Amla versus himself."