Fastest gun Rabada ready for shootout against West Indies

Kagiso Rabada was a shadow of himself in the opening games against England and Bangladesh. Down on pace and menace, he proved largely ineffective with returns of 2/66 and 0/57.

Proteas fast bowler Kagiso Rabada. Picture: Twitter/@OfficialCSA

LONDON - This is it. Last Chance Saloon. South Africa’s Proteas are staring down the barrel. Defeat on Monday to the West Indies and their bandits with bat and ball would sound the death knell on a disastrous Cricket World Cup campaign.

Thankfully Faf du Plessis still has one of his fastest guns firing again. Kagiso Rabada was a shadow of himself in the opening games against England and Bangladesh. Down on pace and menace, he proved largely ineffective with returns of 2/66 and 0/57.

But against India, he rediscovered his bite. He thundered in like a rampaging buffalo. He snarled like a predatory lion. He trumpeted like an African elephant. This was Rabada at his most animalistic. A fearsome fast bowler who had Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan and Virat Kohli beaten for pace and defending the ball right in front of their face.

His fourth delivery of that match was a lifting snorter to Sharma who was still on one. It tied the opener in a tangle. The ball whacked against his glove and looped towards du Plessis at second slip but it would not carry.

Sharma ended the game unbeaten on 122 and Rabada collected 2/39 from his ten overs in a one-sided victory. The scorecard won’t reflect their early battle and how close South Africa’s tearaway came to changing the match.

“It’s a cliche but sometimes you bowl rubbish and get a five-for and sometimes you bowl well and you don’t get as many wickets as you’re hoping for,” said Rabada, who was speaking to the press ahead of the must-win encounter in Southampton and fielding questions concerning the exploits of some of his rivals.

Jasprit Bumrah’s opening spell against South Africa on Wednesday was magnificent and set the tone for his side’s resounding victory. Mitchell Starc has already picked up a five-wicket haul for Australia. Jofra Archer has been frighteningly quick as was evidenced when he hammered Hashim Amla on the helmet in the opening game of the tournament.

And then there’s the West Indies. While South Africa’s pace reserves have been depleted by the injuries of Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi, the Islanders have a stable full of healthy thoroughbreds who have waylaid the top orders of Pakistan and Australia.

Oshane Thomas bowls with a whirlwind action and sends down thunderbolts with unnerving force. Sheldon Cottrell delights in hurling bombs at batters and then celebrating their wickets by giving a soldier’s salute. Even Andre Russell, erroneously labelled a medium pacer by some, can crank it north of 140km/h when he bends his back.

Rabada is not so lucky in the company he’ll keep. Beuran Hendricks, Steyn’s replacement, is a quality left-arm swing bowler but he beats batsmen with skill more than he does through speed. Chris Morris is capable of a surprising bouncer but is hardly an express pace. Does this add extra pressure on Rabada?

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “I’m not focussed on their bowlers. My job is to get the batters out. I guess it’s nice to watch the way they play. They’ve got some good pace. Everyone knows about the West Indies culture of fast bowling. It’s good for cricket. But I don’t think it puts pressure on me.”

This West Indies attack might evoke memories of the past but they are far from the complete product. They had Australia on the ropes at 79/5 but persisted with the short stuff long after the ball had lost its sheen and hardness.

Rather than admit that his bowlers got their tactics wrong in the middle overs, bowling coach Roddy Estwick was bullish in his assessment of the 15 run defeat to Australia on Thursday.

“We are nit-picking and looking for excuses,” he said. “We didn’t play the small moments well. It’s got nothing to do with the bowling at all. I thought the bowlers did a wonderful job.”

Estwick, who toured South Africa during apartheid as a rebel cricketer and who also played for Transvaal, said that a West Indian victory would signify more than just a sporting triumph.

“This is big for the Caribbean people. One thing we are stressing is to go out and put a smile on the people’s faces. Economically we are struggling so we want people to wake up in the morning with a smile on their face, seeing West Indians playing good cricket.”

Estwick continued: “And also we want to help the people in London as well, you know, who have had so much pressure cricket-wise in the last 10, 15 years. If we can put a smile on all black people’s faces we will be very happy.”

Rabada himself is a symbol for black pride. Young and talented, he embodies the new South Africa every time he charges in with a ball in his hand, gliding across the turf as if his body was designed for this single purpose.

This is Last Chance Saloon for South Africa. Rabada will lead the attack against the plethora of power punchers in the West Indian lineup. If his teammates want to avoid an early ride into the sunset, they’ll need their fastest gun to be at his best.