Proteas: The bowler who may turn ‘batsman’

2017-12-08 10:00
Kagiso Rabada (Getty Images)

Cape Town – How about a cheeky little wager?

By the time South Africa, beginning very soon, have played their next 11 Test matches up to the start of next summer, Kagiso Rabada will have a maiden Test half-century – or at least that -- to his name.

That’s my confident tip over his burgeoning ability with the blade, even if his primary trade is always likely to remain his highly-valued fast bowling.

To fulfil that goal – and it’s unlikely he doesn’t harbour it personally – Rabada has a once-off clash with Zimbabwe from Boxing Day, then three against India, four against Australia (all at home) and a three-Test series in Sri Lanka (August) to hit the jackpot at his “second” skill.

Like colleague Morne Morkel in the Proteas’ Test attack, Rabada bowls right-arm fast and bats left-handed.

But that, with the greatest of respect to “Haydos” Morkel, is where the similarity may end … at least because of Rabada’s greater potential, I would submit, to make a proper nuisance of himself at the international crease.

That is not to pour excessive scorn on Morkel’s occasional tenacity and crispness of stroke-play – much more against seamers than spinners, mind – and it is known that the big fellow prides himself greatly on his “potential” in run-getting terms.

He does have a Test best of 40 and 902 runs to his credit in Test cricket, and an average of 12.35 (there have been many, many worse stats than that at the back end of orders).

But whereas Morkel has spent most of his very decent, now advanced Test career as a strike bowler bringing up the very rear on the batting front – most of his innings (25) come from that berth – Rabada is already more familiar with duty at No 9 or 10.

By the end of his career, which should be a long time away as he is still only 22, my own forecast is that he will have graduated into a reliable No 8, unless South African bowling line-ups over the next decade and more are unusually loaded with other characters adept with the willow.

Put it this way: of the present Proteas Test tail-enders, Rabada arguably boasts the best potential to develop his batting to a significant degree.

He did not get the chance to feast at all on the popgun Bangladeshi attack a few weeks ago, simply not being required to bat across the lopsided two-Test home series.

Which was a pity, really, considering how much his batting had blossomed in all of his prior four Test matches, and against significantly better opposition.

Although there was the odd failure in the period too, the surprisingly easy-on-the-eye Rabada, who plays some shots with enormous grace and balance, contributed at least one useful knock in weight-of-runs terms in each of those matches.

His trot began with a career best 34 against New Zealand at Hamilton (from No 10), then there was 27 as a No 7 night-watchman against England (Lord’s), a 30 at The Oval (No 9) and 23 at Old Trafford (also No 9).

England is one of the places where technique is often best tested – and in many instances found out – among batsmen, so for Rabada to show such dogged lower-order resistance in those climes was a feather in his cap even if some people weren’t aware previously of his natural ability at the crease.

He drives off the front foot with authority and near-perfect timing on a good day, and isn’t bad either at working the ball off his toes or hips, square or behind square on the leg side.

Like many other tail-enders, he has plenty to learn when it comes to facing up to the wiliest of Test spinners, but Rabada also seems a willing student with the bat so his competence against slow bowling should only improve progressively as well.

Simply through harsh, regular exposure to the best attacks in the world, it is not that uncommon for certain international tail-end “bunnies” – and Rabada doesn’t look one of those, from a technique perspective – to slowly become more proficient or at least more resilient.

Although he may well eventually eclipse him statistically as a batsman, Rabada can take a cue from Dale Steyn as an example of a highly-touted shock bowler capable of suddenly leaving his specialist comfort zone to turn a Test match emphatically at his other trade.

The standout case, of course, is when the Phalaborwa Express crucially demoralised the Australian bowlers in a series-deciding Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2008/09, scoring (a still career-best) 76 in a massive ninth-wicket alliance of 180 with JP Duminy.

Another prediction: Rabada, one day, will do something not dissimilar.

For all the naivety that remains in certain areas of his batting makeup, his just looks too accomplished at times not to, and it would be silly of the Proteas not to keep encouraging him to grow in that area.

Rabada’s current Test batting average of 14.38 after 27 innings will rise.

Call that another bet, if you like.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  kagiso rabada  |  cricket

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