Topping the world bowling rankings at just 22 years old and being the poster boy of South African cricket is not easy. Kagiso Rabada talks to Eyaaz Matwadia about his love for music and production, how the lockdown affected him and how he hopes to get back to his best.
You come from a family of professionals. Your dad is a doctor and your mum is a lawyer. Did you face academic pressure growing up?
A lot of people think my mother is a lawyer. She is actually a town planner, but you are not the first to make that mistake. Both my parents placed a lot of emphasis on academics. They always wanted academics to come first and that’s something I had to deal with. I didn’t do my academic work amazingly, but I did it.
I don’t think they expected my cricket to turn out the way it has but, in saying that, they have always supported me, because they knew I was a sporty guy who was always excelling at every sport. Cricket has taken me this far, but to this day, they still remind me that I need to set myself up outside of cricket. I guess that’s parents being parents, but it’s the right message.
You said you played many sports. How did you know that cricket was the sport for you?
For me, it was probably in grade nine or 10. That was when I knew this is the career I would follow. I always had the belief I would get to where I am — and thank God that I have. I had all the right opportunities and I took them. But the main thing was belief, and I always knew I would get this far.
Apart from cricket, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
I enjoy music. I love music. So like, sometimes, I just make music on software. Me and a friend, his name is Cameron Scott, we actually got into some production. We did it during lockdown. When Cyril announced — or Mr Ramaphosa announced — that we were going into level five lockdown, we were baffled as to what we were going to do.
The two of us did drama together at school. I was a drama student and I actually enjoyed it. Cameron enjoyed it as well and went on to study law at the University of the Witwatersrand. He was in and out of the US. Every now and then we would chat about what we wanted to do in that space, and then we started a production company called Kingdom Kome.
We actually shot a short film called, Ring of Beasts, during these Covid times, but I’m glad to say that it got accepted into the LA Shorts Film Festival and also the [Zsigmond Vilmos International Film Festival] in Hungary. We’ve also started a platform called Zapcast. We have about four or five shows on there and we run it out of a tech house, like a tech company. We are also working on various other projects: it’s something I’ve been taking seriously and something I want to succeed at.
As amazing as sports careers are, they are also limited. Would you consider going full time into production once you are done with cricket?
Obviously now, I’m also learning a lot about the business world. It’s not just to cover my back. That isn’t the only reason. I wouldn’t do something if I had no interest in it. When it comes to the production, sometimes it can be tedious, but for the most part, it’s a lot of fun, for me at least. The music is just a hobby though. Actually, with Red Bull, I’ve done a few cool things, like DJ at a couple of events. That’s something I enjoy doing and I just enjoy being creative.
So I’m guessing you are the guy who chooses the music in the dressing room?
No. I think sometimes, for a particular group. Not everyone in the team listens to the same type of music. Few people would listen to a type of music that I wouldn’t normally listen to. I love all types of music, but I would predominantly listen to music that is relevant to me. Not everyone has the exact same taste in music in the team environment.
Lockdown took a toll on a lot of people. Inside and outside cricket, how has it all affected you?
First of all, I enjoyed the break, because I have been playing so much over the past six years. It was fun for me; well, not fun — it was relaxing for me to have that break, but not in the way that it came. Covid has just been terrible. People have lost their lives, people are struggling, but personally I think I really needed that break.
At the same time, it’s about being thankful for everything else that you still have in your life. I can still play cricket, my mother and father are still working, my brother had the opportunity to have online schooling. There are people in my extended family that are suffering, but I’m just grateful for what I have already.
The situation is that it’s just a pandemic and what are you going to do about it? At the same time, it’s also about getting on with it and not complaining too much. Personally, it hasn’t really affected me a lot. The only thing I don’t like about it, especially in my line of work, is that when you travel, you can’t tour a country and interact with people. Like when we were in the Caribbean, we couldn’t go out. But in all situations, there’s always positives and negatives.
From the age of 22, you were topping the ICC bowling charts in cricket. When you have set the bar that high, how do you maintain it for the rest of your career?
I’m probably my own biggest critic. At the end of the day, it’s about the team winning. I want to get back to that standard: it is extremely tough. There’s a whole lot of factors that weigh into you getting to number one in the rankings, but that’s not my ambition. That just becomes a by-product.
For me, it’s just about mastering my skill. Cricket takes you on a journey and it always tests you in different ways. There are challenges that await you and you have to recognise what they are and you have to face them. At the end of the day, test yourself to see if you can do it or not.
When I retire one day, I will know that I gave my best shot. Maybe I could do more, but I am doing a lot.