Kagiso Rabada is often called the ‘Smiling Assassin’ for being the pace spearhead of South Africa. With a sharp action and the ability to clock 140mph-plus frequently, the 28-year-old is back in India to feature in his second ODI World Cup.
While adapting to different conditions over the next month-and-a-half will be challenging, Rabada will bank on his experience of playing in India in the past and leading the Proteas’ fast bowling department.
In conversation with Sportstar, Rabada talks about why ODI cricket remains entertaining and what it takes to be a successful fast bowler in these evolving times.
There is a belief that the 2023 ODI World Cup will be the one that will decide the future of the one-day format and the fate of ODI World Cups. Keeping that in mind, how crucial is this edition for the players and the game in particular?
Over the years, we have seen how T20s and franchise cricket are making their mark in world cricket. And now, because of the fast-paced T20 cricket and lucrative deals that it brings to the players and the management as well, it is putting the 50-over format in a vulnerable position, simply because of the entertainment aspect.
I am not too sure how much one-day cricket we are going to be playing over the years. There are conversations going around that we won’t have many one-dayers any more.
With the rise of T20 and franchise cricket, the 50-over format and all other international formats are in a little bit of threat. But it will be sad to see it disappear, having a look at where it has come from and so many great players who have played the game.
They have shown over the years that cricket is more than just a T20 game. There is a 50-over format and a Test format, so hopefully, it can be preserved over the years. I think ODI is an entertaining format. It is not as dull as people make it out to be, even though sometimes T20 cricket may make it look dull.
Since you feature in all three formats, could you suggest a few areas that need attention in a bid to make ODI cricket more interesting and stay relevant in these changing times?
It’s a tough question. I think it’s about selling the game. As long as the best players are playing the format, that’s great. For instance, in the past, you had players like Sachin Tendulkar, AB de Villiers, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, and Shane Warne who were all playing in the 50-over format, which made the format attractive and people wanted to see the cream of the crop.
They also wanted to see competitiveness, and if the standard remains high and there’s competitiveness, then you will always have good cricket to watch.
I think it’s still quite healthy because you have the world’s best cricketers playing in this competition and as much as we play for the love of the game, another aspect of it is the money.
I think the success of T20 cricket is because of its lucrative deals. It is quicker for sure, but money is a big thing. If you look back, when Kerry Packer commercialised cricket, it was a thing and money was introduced to the game.
With the broadcast rights, you are creating a business and the business of T20 cricket has just gone through the roof. A lot of players think of retiring from international cricket and taking up these lucrative deals.
If you look at the IPL, it’s only getting longer, and the ICC almost has to bend over to that. So, as long as the players get looked after, and the business of ODI cricket can remain intact, the game will proceed. If you encourage the best players to stay on board and play this format, then I think that’s the way to preserve it.
South Africa has had a rich legacy of producing quality fast bowlers in Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, and Dale Steyn. Over the last few years, you have been carrying the legacy forward. How challenging is it to shoulder such a great responsibility? How do you handle the expectations?
I am very honoured to be mentioned in that list of names (laughs). In any cricketing culture, there is some sort of inspiration, and that comes from those people who we look up to.
One of the reasons why the youngsters play the game is because they look up to their heroes who inspire them, so there’s a rich history of South African cricket that goes way back to the times of Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards.
When I was watching cricket, Makhaya Ntini and Donald were the people who inspired us to play the game. It’s a dream for me that came true. So glad that it did.
Right now, it’s about carrying on that legacy and passing that on to those that are to come. We have a team saying, ‘to those before us to those to come’ and that’s how it is. The pressure is there, but it’s a good one and not a bad pressure. It’s an honour to keep the legacy going.
In this edition of the World Cup, scores of 300 and 350 could be the norm. At a time when pitches have become challenging for the quicks, especially in the Subcontinent, how do you get going?
Now you have two new balls, and the wickets are usually good, so there is very little margin for error for a fast bowler or a bowler in general. I am not complaining because that’s just the way the game has gone and putting up high scores is much more common these days.
You have the small boundaries, bigger bats, and two new balls, so the reverse swing doesn’t almost play a part anymore. So, the bowlers are being tested a lot more now. I am not too sure how the pitches will play, you can never be sure, but we have an idea that in India, certain grounds are known for good batting conditions, and other venues are spin-friendly.
But you do get an odd occurrence where you find a pitch that suits fast bowling. I am glad that I have played in India and have got some experience of how conditions might play out. So, I know how to adapt to the situations.
Over the next month-and-a-half, South Africa will be playing across eight venues. How much will the experience of playing in the IPL help?
Definitely. We have been coming to India for a large part of my career. The players do have experience playing in the IPL, and so do many other players featuring in the competition. We have an idea because we come here frequently. It’s about who can play in the conditions best.
Over the last few years, world cricket has seen the rise of several young fast bowlers - you, Jasprit Bumrah, Shaheen Shah Afridi. Do you think that with so many young pacers around, the art of fast bowling is improving by the day?
There have been some fast bowlers that have come up, most definitely. But I don’t think it’s like what it was before. Now, the game has shifted more towards the batters - you see a lot more batters come up.
But I think fast bowling is still very healthy - you’ve got great fast bowlers around the world, guys like Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Bumrah - who have been doing it for a long time. Fast bowling is not easy, and to prove yourself, you have to perform for many, many years. I believe, as a fast bowler, you have to play constantly and consistently to prove yourself.
It has an impact on your body as well and it can be quite tough to maintain a great intensity over the years.
Bowling well in different conditions, and doing year in and year out is really a challenge, and I feel that’s the art of fast bowling. It’s not about doing it for one or two years but competing on a world stage for about eight or nine years.
That’s what makes a great fast bowler. So far, the people who have done that are there, and if you could think of them, then you can immediately understand who they are - the [Mitchell] Starcs and Cummins’ and a lot of Australian bowlers, who play every format.
If you look back to the times of Steyn or McGrath, those guys proved it. The list goes on - there’s Shaun Pollock and Zaheer Khan. That’s the art of bowling, it’s about coming back to your game and competing for a long span of time. It is what it is.
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