Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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This season, Kagiso Rabada seems well-placed to conquer the IPL frontier.
Three years ago, with his relentless pace and sharp bowling, a 20-year-old Rabada was one of those exciting bowlers the world couldn't get enough of. By 2016, he looked set to be an all-format star for South Africa, and was touted as the future leader of their pace attack. He looked primed for an IPL deal then, but opted for a county stint with Kent instead. "He's still got loads of years to play in the IPL," his national captain Faf du Plessis had said of his move.
A middling performance in the T20 World Cup that year was followed by an impressive county season, and some scintillating Test and ODI performances. An IPL deal soon came calling, with Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals) scooping him up for INR 5 crore (nearly 10-million Rand) for the 2017 season, turning Rabada into an overnight millionaire.
But for someone who came with a big reputation and deeds to match, Rabada's performances in IPL 2017 were below-par. In his first outing in the tournament, he contributed more with the bat than the ball. In six innings that season, he finished with just six wickets. For someone whose death-bowling skills were raved about, his numbers at that phase were particularly unimpressive, with just two wickets at an economy rate of 11 and an average of 40.5. His chance at redemption in the tournament in 2018 was stalled due to an injury.
Rabada has now come back to the IPL, having added 157 more international wickets and further top honours since that 2017 season. And in IPL 2019, he already has 11 wickets in six games, and is currently on top of the bowling charts. Even better are his figures at the death, where he's picked 10 wickets at an economy of 8.65. These numbers are a testament to the "world-class" tag he's been carrying around for the last few years. And that's not counting the memorable Super Over against Russell, and Kolkata Knight Riders, where he bowled six yorkers while successfully defending 10 runs.
How does he do it? If you ask Rabada, it's not that difficult - apparently.
"A yorker can be a high-pressure delivery but it's really very simple," Rabada says. "All you have to do is practise it - as simple as that. A yorker is an effort ball, definitely, because you are trying to spear it in, in the first six to beat the batter for pace. But I wouldn't say that it is too energy-sapping. I don't think so. It's like bowling a good-length ball at a good intensity. You just bowl the yorker at a good intensity."
But despite the 'simplicity' of yorkers, Rabada showed the quality the best bowlers have: adapting to conditions. On a two-paced pitch at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Sunday, he opted for slower balls and cutters, eschewing his affinity for the fast and straight balls.
"This was a quick and bouncy wicket, similar to Mumbai. It was stopping a little bit," he said. "But it wasn't bad for the batsmen to play on. Coming to India, not all pitches are cliche Indian wickets here. Of course, there is turn, which means you can use your slower balls because they can grip. All in all, when playing in India, you know there's dry conditions, so you have to use your cutters because they work."
After clocking upwards of 145 kmph in the first two deliveries he bowled, he had AB de Villiers hole out to a well-disguised slower ball. He almost got Kohli at the end of the eighth over when the Royal Challengers' captain had mistimed a pull off a pacy short one, with the ball looping off the toe-end of the bat just above Rabada and falling safely behind him. He wouldn't be denied for long though, and the very next ball that Kohli faced off Rabada - the start of the 18th over - he was out. Rabada followed that up with the wickets of Akshdeep Nath and Pawan Negi in the same over - both removed by the short ball - to finish his destructive spell.
"It's always gold to get wickets in T20 cricket," he said. "All you try and do is get the ball in a good area, whatever ball you're trying to bowl, (try to ensure that) the batsman is going to make the mistake. You're not actually trying to get the batter out. You try to see where he's trying to score first of all. He has to take the risk especially in the 18th over. It helps with all the analysis and reading the play at the moment, but things just happened for me. Another time, they could've taken six ones and it would have been a different game. But in T20 cricket you want to get wickets and it happened for me that over. All I tried to do was to keep it simple."
In a year when his team are aiming to turn everything around - they started with the name and hope to end with vastly different results than they've got in seasons past - Rabada's ability to get the best out of himself and churn out match-winning spells will be crucial for Capitals.