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Kagiso Rabada on biosecure bubbles: 'It's almost like luxury prisons we are in'

"It can be quite tough because you are surrounded by four walls the whole time and that can be a factor mentally"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
South Africa's cricketers are gearing up for a summer inside "luxury prisons" as they move from one biosecure bubble to the next for series against England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan (away, potentially, and at home) and Australia. Although Kagiso Rabada expects it to be difficult, he hopes the squad can keep perspective about their privilege.
"It can be quite tough. You can't interact. You've basically lost your freedom. It's almost like luxury prisons we are in. But we have to remind ourselves that we are fortunate," Rabada said. "People have lost their jobs, people are struggling at the moment, so we must be grateful for the opportunity we have been given to make some money and to do what we love.
"And we don't get treated too badly. We stay in great hotels. We get the best food. It's like a spoilt kid not getting what they want at the candy store. It can be quite tough because you are surrounded by four walls the whole time and that can be a factor mentally. But just remind yourself of all the good things that are happening and once we start playing, it will take away from the desolate times."
Rabada has just returned from the IPL, where he was in a bubble for 11 weeks, having spent the previous six months in some form of lockdown imposed by the South African government to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. The extended period of isolation did not appear to have any adverse effects on his game. In fact, one could argue the opposite. Rabada finished the IPL as its top wicket-taker, raising questions over how much he needed a break, and how he will fit in more time off in the future.
"The break helped to refresh the body and to take the mind off of a lot of things," he said. "But I don't know if long extended breaks will happen in future because cricket is getting more and more. I'm not sure how much of it is due to a long break, but I don't think it will happen a lot in the future. I don't think we will get breaks that long unless we get Covid-20."
The bad joke aside, with a packed schedule on the horizon, Rabada hopes to work with the national management team to ensure he gets regular time off to stay at his best.
"When I first got in, I just really wanted to play every game and it's not that that ambition has gone but now it is about being smart with it," he said. "You have to realise there is a long career ahead, there is a lot of cricket and it's about how can I stay fresh. It is going to take some good communication between myself, coach, fitness trainer and medical staff. I definitely do have a say [in when I get time off]. It's about me taking advice from the medical staff and medical staff hearing me out."
But it is also about making sure playing cricket stays fun. Rabada put down some of his excellence at the IPL to the nature of the tournament, which is both sexier and not as "serious" as international cricket.
"There's a lot more superstardom hype," he said. "There are big media and content creation teams. There's a huge following. International cricket is more serious. Although we do have fun in international cricket because you are with guys that you know and we have jokes in the team, it's a lot more serious. The IPL has a bit more fun to it, without saying that there is no fun in international cricket. Of course there is, but I think international cricket is held in a higher prestige."
What both forms of the game - T20s' extravaganza and international cricket - have in common for now, is that they are being played behind closed doors which Jofra Archer said takes away some of the enjoyment. Rabada agreed but seemed to suggest that spectators did not have a real impact on results.
"The crowd plays its role. A big role. We have our supporters and they add to the drama. But at the end of the day, if I am running in to Joe Root, or whoever, it's a contest between me and him," Rabada said. "The crowd can get you going but at the end of the day, no one is bowling the ball for you."
Still, the closed doors and long stays in hotel rooms all make for a "quite bizarre" situation where team-mates don't see each other, socialising is limited and everything is sanitised. "We have to train in groups now. There's a group of non-contacts and a group of close contact," Rabada said. "The team is doing well at sticking to the strict rules that have been set in place. It's challenging and really bizarre."
And for South Africa, things have already got complicated. Two players returned positive for Covid-19 test results since arriving in Cape Town, causing their intra-squad practice match to be cancelled. Another round of tests will take place in the lead up to Friday's series start, which will mark a return of international action in the country for the first time since March. Let the summer of luxury prison-time begin.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent