Confident, outspoken, positive and determined – this is how Kagiso Rabada comes across on the phone. And justifiably so.
In February this year, the 20-year-old became only the second bowler in the history of the Sunfoil Series to take nine wickets in an innings. What’s more, his overall match figures of 14 for 105 bettered the competition’s previous best of 14 for 110 (taken by Dale Steyn).
It came as no surprise, therefore, that Rabada took home the award for Domestic Newcomer of the Season at Wednesday night’s Cricket South Africa (CSA) awards. He was also one of the nominees for the Sunfoil Series Cricketer of the Season.
Rabada spoke to me a day before the awards from his room at the Wanderers hotel. “It will mean a great deal to me [if I win an award]. It was my first season so I wasn’t expecting to win anything,” he said. “It will be very special to me, and significant, because [if I win it means] people obviously felt I stand out – that means I’m headed in the right direction. It shows you that hard work pays off.”
It’s been a good few months for Rabada – in March he was given a central contract by CSA (he was the youngest of 17 cricketers who were awarded the contracts). Then last week, CSA announced he would be part of the Proteas Test squad heading to Bangladesh for a two-match series in July and August.
Always keen to play
“Of course I’m excited,” he said. “It’s great to represent the country. I’m excited to go on tour. Bangladesh are a good team at home. I’m always keen for a tour, and always keen to play some cricket.”
Rabada has been playing cricket since he was a grade three pupil at the Bryanston Parallel Medium in Sandton, where he was something of a sports enthusiast, also excelling in athletics and tennis, and later rugby.
“My first coach, Dirk Smit, introduced me to cricket and helped me a lot. I started making the district teams, then progressed to regionals, then Gauteng.” He attended high school at St Stithians College, where his talent was further nurtured. “When I was there, we were the number one school in cricket. When I left, we were still number one. It’s a great school.”
Rabada made the Gauteng under 13B team and has not looked back since. From there, he worked his way up into the Gauteng under-15, under-17 and under-19 sides, played at the CSA Cubs Week and eventually made it into the South Africa under-19 squad.
His six for 25 against Australia took South Africa’s under-19 team to the age-group World Cup final in Dubai in 2014. Rabada was South Africa’s highest wicket-taker in the tournament, which they won.
A few months later, the Highveld Lions awarded him a franchise contract and, before long, he was called up for the Proteas one-day international and Test squads, making his T20 debut against Australia in Adelaide last November.
It has been a dream come true for him. “I used to watch all of them who are playing right now when I was young – I was young when I first saw AB de Villiers get into the team and he has been playing ever since. Now I get to play with him and guys like Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel. It’s very special; it’s great to be around these guys.”
Rabada appreciates that, at 20, he has been given a good chance. “I think fresh blood is good. I think I can learn a lot at a young age.” But he believes that more needs to be done in all sports to develop the potential available.
“As someone who has been through the ranks, I have seen huge amounts of talent everywhere I go. In every game I have played, there have been a few talented players in the opposition. Even in school teams, there are so many talented individuals. I think we should keep it that way.
“I think in townships, we can get so much more. At the Lions awards, the speaker from Sascoc [South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee] mentioned that we need money and facilities in sport and that’s how we’ll unearth raw talent. I believe the First World countries have really maximised on the talent they found. I don’t think we have maximised on it in places like South Africa, Sri Lanka, etcetera. I think we still have lots of potential in terms of talent across sport.”
What does he think he will bring to the Proteas side?
“I think I’ll bring some speed. I think I could bring willingness to try things. I’ll be listening to any suggestions, but I think I’ll bring some good aggression.” He’s also well aware that a long-term spot in the national squad entails hard work.
“When I took the nine wickets [in the Sunfoil Series], I was ready for that game. I summarised the wickets and the batsmen. You need to make sure you’re well prepared, in terms of doing the hard work, covering all your bases, making sure you are doing the right thing, working a little harder to try and improve – bowling two more overs at practice sessions, trying to bowl some yorkers and in-swingers. But, at the same time, you don’t want to over-cook yourself.
“Obviously you can only control the controllables. I make sure I’m fit, make sure I’m not putting too much strain on my body. I make sure I take the necessary breaks that I need. I take my mind off cricket sometimes. I’m hopeful that things will go well. So far things have gone great. Hopefully they’ll get better in the future.”