Rabada heads trio of bowlers who bossed 2018

Kagiso Rabada. Photo: Gallo Images.

Kagiso Rabada. Photo: Gallo Images.

The Proteas’ bowling spearhead was in the thick of things as the ball enjoyed a resurgence in world cricket.

The headline, as it so often is these days, is Virat Kohli.

The story, though, naturally runs deeper.

The India captain, batsman extraordinaire and record-breaker with scarcely believable numbers, swept the 2018 ICC awards announced on Tuesday, with a dominance never seen before.

But look who was chasing him for the honours.

Kohli had three big challengers for the main awards, and all of them were bowlers.

Not just any bowlers – three of the best who have broken stereotypes and brought to the game an unabashed uniqueness that has heralded the resurgence of the ball over bat.

Kagiso Rabada (South Africa) – fast, fiery and exciting.

Jasprit Bumrah (India) – also fast, and freakishly deceptive.

Rashid Khan (Afghanistan) – wily, prolific and a source of joy.

They send down ball after ball, consistent and effective, asking questions of batsmen all right, but also challenging the viewers: “Look away if you can.”

Rabada came second to Kohli in both the Sir Garfield Sobers Men’s Player of the Year and Test Player of the Year awards.

Bumrah was the only player apart from Kohli who featured in both the Test and ODI Team of the Year.

Rashid, meanwhile, was runner-up for the ODI Player of the Year honour.

That the trio were front and centre of consciousness and ranking charts in the year gone by comes as little surprise: 2018 was, after all, the year of the bowlers.

Rare was the Test that meandered to a draw – and a few of those draws were positively thrilling.

And much of this, arguably, had to do with competitive pitches and the skill of this generation of bowlers.

According to ESPNcricinfo, a bowler took a wicket every 27.37 runs and every 54.7 deliveries in 2018.

Both numbers are the best in a calendar year in nearly six decades.

Fast bowlers were again calling the shots: they averaged 25.39, the best since 1960.

Rabada, sitting comfortably at No 1 on the Test Rankings for Bowlers, and Bumrah, No 1 on the corresponding ODI chart while rising to 15th among Test bowlers in just his first year in the red-ball game, led this pace charge.

Think back to Port Elizabeth in the second Test against Australia in March.

In the first innings, Rabada came back from an indifferent start to prise out five wickets in a fiery spell of 18 balls.

In the second, on a mostly placid surface and faced with the prospect of being out of the rest of the series with disciplinary penalties, he began with a bouncer to David Warner, and followed it up with a searing spell that forced the opener to duck, weave and ultimately be bowled by one that moved back in.

His 11/150 in that game helped him regain the No 1 Test ranking.

When Dale Steyn recently became South Africa’s highest wicket-taker, Rabada lifted him up on his shoulders, but on the stats charts he was right at his senior’s back: the youngster is only one behind Steyn’s five 10-wicket hauls, and his strike-rate is better than Steyn’s, easily sitting in the top five of all time for those who have played more than 35 matches.

He may not have walked away with an annual gong, but 2018 was as much his (and the two others’) year.

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