England in South Africa 2015-16 January 19, 2016

Rabada keeps the faith amid SA gloom

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Kagiso Rabada has been one of South Africa's shining lights in a disappointing series © AFP

Kagiso Rabada said it five times but it was difficult to believe the mood in the South African camp was "positive," as they prepared for the final Test against England at SuperSport Park.

Before the session had officially started, the players milled about in the middle, some tossing balls to each other, others shadow-boxing, but with little of the intensity that usually accompanies the start of a Test-match week. Whatever the outcome of this match, it is not going to change too much for a squad that has come out of their biggest season in recent memory, including two four-Test series in a row, with nothing to show for it.

"It hasn't been a great two months from us - coming from India and also here against the English," Rabada said. "But we are bonding together as a team. I think that's the best thing we can do right now. We are trying to get ourselves in a good space. We're very positive at the moment. That's the best thing to do."

The words escaped his lips but his eyes betrayed him. There was no spark. There was no smile. Rabada was resigned in the way Ashwell Prince, now a selector, feared young players would be when even their captain, AB de Villiers, has condemned the current situation as hopeless.

"I feel that it is very disappointing," Prince said in an interview with the Cape Times. "The messages coming out in the media about AB not enjoying the game, about whether he is going to play, and how long is he going to play. And obviously that comment that 'all hope is gone'. If I was a young player in the team, I would be concerned about what the captain is saying. Does that mean he has no faith in me as a young player?"

Although de Villiers recommitted himself to Test cricket in the immediate aftermath of the Wanderers defeat, there remain concerns about how much longer he will make himself available to South Africa. And he is not the only senior player in the spotlight.

Dale Steyn will sit out his sixth Test in eight when he misses the Centurion match, and the fact that he broke down in the other two matches, at Mohali and Durban, merely adds to the doubts over his long-term future.

Steyn himself responded to a speculative story about the end of his career by tweeting the publication where the piece appeared, Netwerk 24 saying he still had a long time left before his career was finished. Nevertheless, his absence, coupled with the injury that kept Vernon Philander out of the series, cost South Africa dearly. Rabada even identified it at as a possible difference between the two sides.

"Maybe we can say we've got a young bowling attack, they've got a very experienced bowling attack. That's the only difference," he said. "I don't think they are that much better than us. Maybe they are playing better cricket than we are."

The reality is that, even with their inexperience, South Africa's bowling is the only thing that has kept them competitive. Their batting, barring the first innings in Cape Town, has floundered. The line-up has struggled for consistency in an XI battling for balance. In the last two months, they have been shot out for their two lowest totals since readmission - 79 in Nagpur and 83 at the Wanderers - and the number of soft dismissals has pointed to mental fragility. But Rabada insisted they have some fight left.

"We are trying our best. It's not like the batters are trying to get out. You are playing for your country; you have to do your best. I know for a fact every guy is trying to do their best. Sometimes it doesn't go your way," he said. "The fighting spirit is natural in the team. No-one is trying to lose their wickets. Everyone is fighting out there."

Prince believes one person needs to fight harder than the rest and that's de Villiers. "People say we don't have Graeme Smith anymore, Alviro Petersen, Jacques Kallis, so AB is not batting behind all those types of guys anymore. That means there is even more responsibility on his shoulders as a batsman," Prince said. "We don't have the names that people are throwing about, so especially in terms of where the team is at the moment - our backs against the wall - his performances are going to become even more important than they were in the past. The country needs him now more than ever."

That may be Prince's way of asking de Villiers to stay a little longer, to lead a little more by example or just to try and lighten the mood. Whatever it was, it hasn't worked yet.

By the time Rabada's media session was over and he had tried his best to convince everyone present that "we are very positive," the squad had formed a huddle. On previous occasions when they stood in that ring, you could hear the war-cry, their clasping of hands and the shout of "Protea Fire." Maybe that came later. But as the clouds gathered overhead and the squad stood with their arms around each other, they were an image of unhappiness. Over the next week, only they can change that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ProteaCricketLover on January 22, 2016, 12:18 GMT

    Its a very bleak period for our cricket. Reminds me of the horrible days from nearly a decade ago when we were whitewashed in 2 ODI series and now we are back again at square one. What is apparent is the lack of composure in all of our batsmen; even with Hash and AB much to my shock. Then hearing such statements from our captain makes it worse. There needs to be a methodical improvement in all batsmen. I think the board should identify a set of 10 - 15 batsmen who can contribute in the longer run and have them play county cricket. It will give them a lot of exposure and confidence in handling alien conditions. Secondly, I hope our players skip the IPL this season, starting with AB and Dale. It only adds to the burn out. The bowlers are on the learning curve and I don't have many complaints about them. But I am surprised why de Lange is constantly ignored. He should be leading the line now. We cant lose him!

  • jimcot on January 21, 2016, 2:39 GMT

    Is it just me or is vilas massively unlucky? He looked like a test calibre batsmen to me and S.A looks 2-3 short in that area... Edgar. de Kock. Amla. de Villiers. du Plessis. Dumminy. Vilas. Rabada. Steyn/Abbott. Piedt. Morkel looks the best line up in terms of quality and bowling to me. If dumminy doesnt show some signs of being a test player in the next 5 tests the bavauma is waiting in the wings. I think the proteas are better off going for one day players like miller and rousouw over guys like van ziiyl in anycase. Cook is 33 so i wouldnt play him at this point for a debut.

  • Charlie101 on January 20, 2016, 20:38 GMT

    Reading the article again , the comments in the media by AB were similar to the kind of comments KP might say to the media whilst making sure he was fresh enough for the IPL - not a good situation and it would be a tragedy for AB to become a mercenary like KP or Gayle as we have lost many stars from test cricket recently and AB is one of the brightest test cricket stars.

  • lodd on January 20, 2016, 20:26 GMT

    Series over .... England win 0-2 away from home ....end of

  • aahahaa on January 20, 2016, 15:18 GMT

    the U19 team won the WC 2 years back and only Rabada has made it to the senior side. isn't that a problem ?

  • YorkshirePudding on January 20, 2016, 13:07 GMT

    @Protears, I disagree in regards to Morkel, don't forget he's shoulding the brunt of the attack as the most experienced Bowler there, and has been a good foil for Steyn at the other end.

    The problem is one bowler cannot carry the attack, which is what he's had to do in a number of games and I expect he's not only physically exhausted but also mentally.

  • Protears on January 20, 2016, 11:20 GMT

    I would've liked us to be positive with 5 bowlers in this match, gives us a chance to win. Abbott is sorely underrated and is the only active pitch it up bowler we have in the absence of Steyn and Philander. On Piedt vs Harmer I feel it's a balance of attack vs Containment, Harmer is better at slowing an end and gets more bounce, Piedt has done well enough to come back in. Abbott, Rabada Morkel, Morris, Piedt is a positive approach also lets you rest someone for longer.

    As of now Faf needs a big game and Morkel is also on the edge, when Philander and Steyn return I am not sure Morkel retains a place.

  • Charlie101 on January 20, 2016, 11:18 GMT

    Consistency has not been the hallmark of our England team and with the series won I would think this was an excellent chance for SA to redeem themselves

  • Duidelik on January 20, 2016, 10:14 GMT

    AB needs to realize that he is not bigger than the game. I am starting to believe the Indian fans when they ask when has he won a game for SA on his own when the chips were down. He only makes these mighty scores when there are already runs on the board. Just because he became the number one batsman in the world doesn't mean that it should go to his head and hold the whole country to ransom by making demands about where he wants to bat and when he wants to keep wicket, and by not getting his way threatening to quit. If he wants to quit, let him! We shouldn't lick him!

  • DEEGANSARMY on January 20, 2016, 9:20 GMT

    I feel for you South African fans, as an Englishmen we went through this two years ago and it's take a lot of soul-searching to get to here. In truth, Rabada's view about the comparative bowling attacks sums up the current cricket that side is playing. There is a gulf in class between the unit that England have and the individuals of the South African attack. Morris is never a test bowler and the less said about Viljoen the better. If you can get Steyn to commit more time to his country than the IPL then you may see him stay fit for the test series rather than the limited overs stuff. Steyn and Philander make a difference to that side, but at their age and clearly their level of inactivity at Test level in recent times, I would be very concerned about how this attack has the balance required to take 20 wickets on virtually any surface. I also can't understand how Roussouw doesn't get a game when Faf is living on limited former glories.

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