Faf du Plessis: “Every time I said, ‘Are you tired?’ he [Rabada] said, ‘No, you’re not taking the ball out of my hand’.” © Getty Images
If Kagiso Rabada were a little older but not quite as wise, or the WACA pitch a little flatter but with not quite as much carry, South Africa’s 21-year old bowling superstar may not have had the success he did. But youth and circumstance allowed him to prove himself “a champion bowler”, in the words of his captain Faf du Plessis, and bowl a 10-man South Africa side to the unlikeliest of victories.
“I am incredibly proud of KG. He just wanted the ball,” du Plessis said. “Every time I said, ‘Are you tired?’ he said, ‘No, you’re not taking the ball out of my hand’. That’s the sign of a champion bowler for me. He wants to be in the fight the whole time.”
Rabada bowled 51 overs in the match, almost ten more than his seam-bowling partner Vernon Philander. In the second innings, his twin spells of eight overs at the beginning and end of the day broke the back of Australia’s attempt to save the match. If that wasn’t enough, he returned on the final morning for six more overs of high-quality to complete a five-for. In all that, Rabada never thought it was getting too much.
“It was challenging but I’ve done this before, at Kent. There are flat wickets there. At least here the ball is bouncing now,” Rabada said. “I’ve got that experience in my body but least I am young. If I was older, I don’t know if I’d have done that much.”
The pick of Rabada’s efforts came late in the afternoon on the penultimate day. Despite flagging energy, his speeds were above 140, the line was perfect outside off stump and the movement he generated made a wicket inevitable. First Steven Smith fell and then Rabada produced a near-perfect over to Adam Voges.
“I enjoyed that over, with a new batter coming in and the ball reversing nicely,” Rabada said. “I was feeling my best rhythm. Sometimes you get a wicket exactly how you want it and this was one of those times.”
At four down overnight, there was some talk of an early finish but Rabada entered the day aware that it might get long. “Two things could have happened: either we would have cleaned them up before lunch and we’d have been done or this would have happened where we had to wait until tea time. If it does happen, great. If it doesn’t you have to keep on persisting and hitting your straps and that’s what we did.”
South Africa’s determination stemmed from a desire to translate their success in the home ODIs against the same opposition into the longer format. “It was important coming here after what we’ve done in the one-dayers to back it up with Tests,” du Plessis said. “You like to start well and open up those wounds again.”
Rabada is being spoken about as the new spearhead, especially with Dale Steyn out for at least the next six months, but it is not a label he wants. “I don’t see myself being the leader of the attack. Every player has a job to do,” Rabada said. “I have a responsibility to make sure I produce the good for your country. You’ve got a job to do, it’s a passion and you do it for your team-mates and the people back home. No one wants to lose, right? So you have to try to do everything you can to win.”
Sharing the burden is a theme South Africa want to build on, not just in the bowling department. With AB de Villiers out of the series, the rest have had to rally. In this Test, JP Duminy’s return to form, batting at No.4, was particularly pleasing for South Africa especially as there was pressure on him to keep his place.
“The extra responsibility on JP is something he has really enjoyed. He looked really confident,” du Plessis said. “He was practising well. His body language was positive. It’s not a guarantee but it’s a sign and I felt JP’s cricket was about to turn in a positive way. He has played really well. That’s one of his best knocks he has ever played. He moved brilliantly. Even throwing the ball to him now, I know he is so confident. It’s great for his future in the game.”
With so much going their way, South Africa will celebrate in Perth tonight but not like they would have celebrated before. In 2012, the series was done. Now, the series has just started and they know they have a long way to go. “It’s important to celebrate games like this. Every time you win a Test you must celebrate,” du Plessis said. “But we also know we’ve got one step in the right direction but we are very far from winning the series.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo