ICC World Cup: Kagiso Rabada ready to play leader of South Africa pace pack

Says his familiarity with Indian conditions, thanks to the IPL and recent visits, will certainly help the Proteas' campaign

Kagiso Rabada ready to lead South Africa cricket team's attack in ICC World Cup 2023 in India (photo: Will Russell/ICC via Getty Images)
Kagiso Rabada ready to lead South Africa cricket team's attack in ICC World Cup 2023 in India (photo: Will Russell/ICC via Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Kagiso Rabada, the South African pace warhead in this ICC World Cup, knows that he has to play the role of a leader for their pace bowling unit. And the smiling assassin, as he is often called, is bracing for it as the Proteas open their campaign against Sri Lanka at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in the New Delhi on Saturday, 7 October. 

Ever since a rather modest first appearance in the 2019 edition, Rabada has grown in stature by leaps and bounds to emerge as their best bet in the post-Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel era. The strapping 28-year-old has a lovely action, records 140-plus clicks regularly and is no stranger to the needs of adapting to the Indian conditions — thanks to his Indian Premier League (IPL) appearances. 

After an extremely fruitful stint with the Delhi Capitals, he was released and snapped up by Punjab Kings — for whom Rabada picked up 23 wickets in the 2022 season. Incidentally, South Africa had played as many as 11 ODIs in India since the beginning of last year and he feels their collective experience could set them apart from the rest. 

“It does help when you understand the conditions in the various grounds, and having played in India for all these years, it gives you a familiarity on how to go about your tactics,” said Rabada, who now has 144 wickets from 92 ODIs with an impressive economy rate of 5.06.  

The 2019 World Cup in England saw the four-time semi-finalists failing to move beyond the group league stages, but have since risen to fourth in the ICC men’s ODI Team Rankings — riding high after a 3–2 series victory over Australia. However, Rabada’s cryptic reply about the last campaign was: “The lesson I took from that is that team cohesion is the most important factor, because individuals don’t win World Cups, teams do.’’ 

Speaking to the ICC media team, Rabada said: “The older I have become and the more caps I have, the more I realise that I am a leader in that environment. Through knowing my own strengths and reinforcing them, knowing what makes me tick and through lending an ear to other players, I want to help set how we play as a collective.” 

The injuries to fellow quicks Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala have dented their attacking potential a bit, but Rabada’s optimism refuses to take a beating. 

“One thing we have never lacked as South Africans is belief, so going into the tournament we do believe we can win it,” said Rabada. “We’ve got the players to do so, so hopefully we can make our first final and win this competition. It’s going to be hard but it’s going to be really enjoyable.’’ 

Rabada, one of eight survivors from the squad who competed in England four years ago, is relishing his newfound responsibility as one of the team’s older statesmen and helping captain Temba Bavuma plot the team’s path to success. 

“The majority of our team has played in India, but for those who haven’t played as much, it is important to share experiences. In India you have drier conditions and they are batter-friendly wickets, so it’s about finding ways to be successful,’’ he said. 

What does it take to remain unfazed by the packed and noisy stadia? “Managing the noise and distractions is really important and I think it’s just about focus and not letting the crowd get to you. But at the same time, it is exciting to be playing in packed stadiums with tens of thousands of screaming fans — it’s an honour.”  

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