Why Kagiso Rabada deserved praise despite South Africa’s World Cup woes

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In 25 minutes yesterday afternoon at the Cricket World Cup, Kagiso Rabada challenged everything I hold sacrosanct as a sports journalist.

Unless, like my wife, you are part of an education system advocating ‘Non-competitive sports day’ (don’t even get me started) you, like me, presumably stand square behind the idea of ‘To the victor belongs the spoils.’

Sport is by definition a contest, or at least it should be and from such contests, the fastest, strongest, fittest or most technically gifted prevail 95% of the time.

And such is human nature we all want to back the winner, hence, in the wake of India’s six-wicket win yesterday, centurion Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah were lauded, while for a South African side now 0-3 the tournament post-mortems are already in full swing.

On one level there is nothing wrong with that, though the praise heaped on Virat Kohli for a catch my 78-year-old mum with arthritis in the knees would have taken was baffling.

The problem though with any over-simplistic view is moments of tremendous sporting theatre are banished to the cutting room floor, or these days the recycling bin, for lack of space, simply because they were the acts of someone who must be labelled the loser.

To write off Rabada’s feats yesterday in such a light would in my view be a journalistic dereliction of duty.

The young paceman, who lit up this year’s IPL, produced an opening spell which, had the fickle finger of sporting fate smiled upon him, could have rewritten the World Cup narrative.

India, in their first match of the tournament – we could debate the whys and wherefores of them being given special dispensation to start their matches after everyone else because of the IPL, but we won’t – restricted the Proteas to 227-9, a score which would have been worse but for Rabada’s 31 not out.

By the time Rabada stood at the end of his run, the vultures were gathering, another South African World Cup obituary already half-written in front of them.

The burden on his shoulders was heavy too. Dale Steyn had been ruled out of the tournament earlier in the week and another fellow quick Lungi Ngidi was also unavailable through injury.

Given that context, Rabada produced a spell-binding set of deliveries on a pitch, pundits had already admitted was not conducive to out-and-out pace bowling.

One ball leapt from a length and was fended off by Shikar Darwan just beyond JP Duminy at backward point.

Another beat Sharma’s outside edge, before later in the over a bouncer saw the batsman late on the shot, the ball ballooning off the gloves. Proteas skipper Faf Du Plessis ran forward from third slip and got his hands under the dying, dropping ball, but couldn’t hang on.

The scream of frustration from Rabada was surely heard back in his home province of Gauteng never mind the confines of the Hampshire Bowl. Both batsmen were on zero at the time – another illustration of sport’s small margins.

The 24-year-old would go on to break Darwin’s bat with a Yorker before sending him packing with a ball of fearsome pace and movement.

Kohli too was given a searching examination as those first three overs yielded 1-3 before a second spell brought another wicket and another dropped catch.

Sadly, the nature of the game is these heroics will rate little more than a footnote in a tale of Indian acclaim.

Gauteng means ‘Place of gold’ by the way. Regardless of South Africa’s fate as a whole, Rabada will produce sufficient of the precious metal to take the winner’s plaudits somewhere in the rest of the World Cup group stages.

Perhaps then we’ll remember the earlier nuggets we consigned as mere dust to the recycle bin.

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