South Africa’s reliance on their attack at the World Cup has been cruelly exposed, especially with leg-spinner Imran Tahir the only bowler who has consistently been on top of his game. In terms of reputation, the biggest loser in this tournament must be Kagiso Rabada.
The 24-year-old Rabada was on fire at the IPL just preceding the World Cup and was expected to lead his attack and be a shining light in the same way the likes of Mohammad Amir, Jofra Archer, Mitchell Starc, Lockie Ferguson, Lasith Malinga, Mustafizur Rahman and Jaspreet Bumrah have been for their sides.
But whether it is due to his tank now being empty or the weight of expectation on his shoulders, Rabada simply has not fired, whether it be in taking wickets with the new ball or getting his team across the line when defending totals against New Zealand and India.
“KG has been brilliant the last year, he bowled quickly through the whole summer, and he is trying. But he didn’t start well and his confidence took a hit. But he’s a great bowler and he can fix that. His career has been one highlight after the other and this is probably his first stumbling block, so it’s about how he responds and gets better. He needs to take stock,” Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said.
“I don’t think there’ll ever be a perfect answer in terms of managing his workload and he probably has bowled too much. We did try to keep him from the IPL because we wanted him to be fresh and then we tried to get him back early. It’s important we find space to rest the three-format players like him. But he came in not fresh, it’s not an excuse, just a fact. His pace has probably been a bit down. But KG is such a big player for the team and we will always have that workload challenge.”
The likes of Bumrah and Archer lined up in just as many IPL matches as Rabada, and the leading wicket-taker in global Test cricket last year clearly did not want to talk too much about it.
“I wanted to rest up prior to the World Cup so I could be fresh for an important tournament, so the plan was to leave the IPL early, but that didn’t work out, don’t ask me why. I got a lot more results in the IPL, but here I’ve just done okay, I would have liked to do better. These are the tournaments you really want to stand up in; at times I’ve been unlucky, but at other times I’ve let myself down.
“Unfortunately I just haven’t been able to bring out my best on the field of play, which is what I have to do, so that is disappointing. But at the top it’s never smooth sailing, it’s extremely tough and ups an downs are part of the game. The key is to bounce back and I will definitely come back firing and nail down my performance. I’ve come in with a good mindset and it’s just the execution that is the question mark,” Rabada said.
One can only marvel at leg-spinner Imran Tahir though, who has been the true leader of the South African attack and is their leading wicket-taker (10) and most economical bowler (4.89). Rabada, in contrast, has taken just six wickets and conceded 5.25 runs-per-over.
“I’m really trying to stand up but I’ve just been okay, while Imran has bowled unbelievably well. Everyone has the same passion he’s shown, but sometimes it’s about confidence as well. You can have all the hype or passion, but if our skills are not up to date or your confidence is down, then you can’t lead. His confidence has been sky-high for a number of years,” Rabada said of Tahir.