South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has revealed South Africa tried to stop fast bowler Kagiso Rabada from going to this year's IPL, where he eventually injured his back and was withdrawn towards the end.
Rabada, South Africa's key strike bowler who has six wickets so far in the World Cup at 50.83, confirmed that there had been a plan to have him miss the IPL, but said it had not worked out. He was the IPL season's second-highest wicket-taker, his 25 wickets one behind compatriot Imran Tahir, despite playing five fewer matches.
After South Africa exited the World Cup with another disappointing defeat - this time to Pakistan - du Plessis was asked if he felt Rabada's workload had been managed well. Since the start of last year, only Nathan Lyon has bowled more overs in international cricket than Rabada. If du Plessis could have had his way, he wouldn't have had Rabada - playing for Delhi Capitals - bowling the additional IPL overs and instead been working on rehab and recovery.
"I don't think we'll ever have a perfect answer for that because he's probably biting on too much," du Plessis said. "But we did try and get him not to go to the IPL; to try and stay and get fresh. That wasn't the case of [course] and then when he went there, we were like, let's try and get him back halfway through the IPL because it's important, not just for him, but a few other players.
"I mean, I spoke about it before the IPL even started, that it's important that we try and find space to rest our three-format players, because they play all the formats all the time, and then IPL. So I don't think it's necessarily just the IPL, but it was important for a few guys to rest; and the fact that they didn't meant that they came into the tournament not fresh. That's not an excuse; that's just a fact."
Rabada himself confirmed that there had been a plan to have him miss the IPL, but said it had not worked out. "That was basically just to rest up prior to the World Cup for obvious reasons like injury and being fresh for an important tournament." Rabada said, during an interaction with reporters in the mixed zone on Sunday, after South Africa's defeat to Pakistan.
The plan to have Rabada sit out the IPL fell through, and an alternative couldn't be worked out either - for reasons he did not reveal. "Well, the plan was to leave early but that didn't work out - don't ask me about any of that - but eventually I came back earlier as you might know."
ESPNcricinfo understands that Rabada was released by Capitals the moment CSA wanted him back. Scans for a niggle cleared Rabada of injury but CSA didn't want to take any risks, and Capitals complied.
Du Plessis went on to say Rabada's pace has been down this tournament. The South Africa captain also said he couldn't have rested Rabada in international series. To do so, you need a second line of bowlers. "That challenge we are going to have as a team all the time," du Plessis said. "You can't unfortunately go back with the national side and say to KG: 'Listen, you're going to rest for the next two series.' He's such a big player for the team; it's a difficult thing to do.
"You know, you need guys that can… you need three or four or five bowlers in the wings waiting, so you can have a bit of a rotation system. I mean, that was the plan with Anrich [Nortje] in the back-up and pipeline, and he got injured as well. So therefore all our pace is gone and there's so much responsibility on KG to carry that load of being the lone fast bowler."
CSA, however, can't compensate the players enough for missing the IPL the way Cricket Australia and ECB do. It is tempting to imagine if AB de Villiers would have retired in the first place had there not been an IPL to go to, where he actually said the IPL was "better than the World Cup". South Africa also lost Dale Steyn for the World Cup as he could not recover in time from the injury he sustained playing the IPL ironically as a last-minute replacement. Steyn's absence has also hurt South Africa, leaving Rabada to do all the striking work.
"KG at the moment is feeling like he needs to do something, but it's not happening for him; and therefore, you're not seeing that same intensity when he bowls - or not bowls; or when he celebrates a wicket or when he's going through after the over back to his mark," du Plessis said. "Obviously Dale is a special bowler, and the fact that he's injured, we can't use that as an excuse. There's enough good bowlers in our team to still be better than what we did today. There was a lot of bad balls bowled on a wicket that if you just bowled really good lines and lengths, it was tough for the batters to score."
Du Plessis said this is a challenge Rabada will have to find ways to get the better of. "You know, he's a great bowler. He will be able to fix that. His career has been one that's been probably just going up and up and up and up and up every time he's played for us.
"So this is probably his first stumbling block as a great fast bowler. So for him now, it will be to see how he responds, how he learns in this period and how he makes sure he gets better. Because he has been great for us, but now he needs to take stock of where his bowling is and then try and get better as a bowler."
Nortje had been ruled out of the World Cup in the first week of May itself with a thumb injury. Once the tournament started, South Africa suffered a blow when Steyn was ruled out too, and Lungi Ngidi hurt his hamstring in the game against Bangladesh which didn't let him complete his quota of 10 overs. Ngidi further sat out three matches before returning for the clash against New Zealand, which was South Africa's fourth loss in five completed games.
With inputs from Sharda Ugra
GMT 1400 The story was updated to include Rabada's quotes.