I want to become like Dale Steyn - Rabada
At the Under-19 level, one would normally set the bar lower as far as expectations regarding bowling speeds are concerned. Coaches will tell you that fast bowlers start hitting their peak speeds only during their early 20s, once their physique develops. The U-19 World Cup has produced fast bowlers over the years who average in the mid-80s (mph) and higher.
The opening game of the U-19 World Cup in the UAE between West Indies and South Africa was highlighted by raw pace from bowlers on both sides, but it was Kagiso Rabada's thunderbolts, on an average of 85mph, which proved more incisive, leaving West Indies' top order shell-shocked. But strangely, the South Africa seamer didn't appear terribly satisfied with the pace he generated in conditions not known for supporting quicks. He warns that batsmen can expect more venom, if he's bowling back at home.
"I don't think the pace was there today. I think I am much quicker than that," Rabada said humbly. "But that doesn't matter. Hitting the right areas matters the most. I can touch 90mph on a different wicket, this pitch was much slower."
Rabada's matter-of-fact reaction suggested that topping 90 and above is a piece of cake for him. He doesn't bustle to the crease like Makhaya Ntini used to do. He has a more measured approach, and likes to hit the deck. His short-of-a-length deliveries with the new ball under the afternoon sun had the West Indies batsmen ducking and weaving, with one of them taking a blow on the helmet. Rabada finished with figures of 3 for 14 in eight overs, but his first spell of 6-3-9-3 was what had done the damage. One can imagine how much more threatening he could have been if South Africa had bowled first.
Rabada had Shimron Hetmeyer and Jonathan Drakes edging behind the wicket with the fuller deliveries. He then beat Jeremy Solozano for pace when the batsman dragged one onto the stumps. The short stuff was enough to intimidate the batsmen and pile on the pressure, despite the modest target.
The Johannesburg-born Rabada is a product of the privileged St Stithians Boys College in Randburg, known for its sporting pedigree. The school has also produced the former Test fast bowler David Terbrugge, and Rabada says it's now churning out more promising players. However, he admits that cricket wasn't his first love.
"I took to cricket when I was in Grade 3, when I was nine years old," Rabada says. "I remember I was not so much into cricket and was into rugby. My coach asked me to try it out. The love for the game grew."
For several young players, securing a cricket kit and the required funding to further their aspirations in the game has been an issue, but Rabada says his school helped ease those concerns. Support from his family has also helped him pursue the sport.
"The facilities were there, but getting the kit was difficult for me. But, the school did eventually supply the kid for me. Eventually, I started getting sponsors. I should say that it has not been a huge problem for me and I am blessed for that," Rabada says. "My mom and dad and my entire family are very supportive of me."
Rabada made his national U-19 one-day debut almost a year ago to the day, against the touring England side. He ended the series with a best of 3 for 35 at Stellenbosch and he was later picked for the U-19 Quadrangular Series in Visakhapatnam later in the year. His 3 for 45 helped beat India in a close finish.
He wants to follow in Dale Steyn's footsteps, both for his skills and attitude. "(I admire) Steyn's away-swing and ability to keep the ball full. He is fiery and aggressive. That is what I want to be."
His U-19 coach, Ray Jennings, says he sees a similar attitude in Rabada and wants the fast bowler to harness it if he wants to stay on the radar longer. Jennings says that Rabada's other strength is his physique.
"He has to love what he does, he has to stay aggressive and he has to be mean," Jennings says. "Whether he takes the new ball or not and there always has to be that aggression in his bowling. He has to keep his feet on the ground moving forward to higher levels and he's got to learn from certain people."
The Grade 12 student has another ambition to fulfill - a law degree. "I didn't want to study this year because I was involved with the Lions (franchise)," he says. "So, it was too much on my plate to study and play. But next year, I will take a few subjects each and every year and complete my degree, no matter how long it takes."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo