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IND vs SA 1st Test: From Rabada to India, a subtle reminder of his greatness | Cricket

When the mood takes him, Kagiso Rabada can be properly quick. He runs in hard, hits the deck, bowls at 150 kph and can maintain the pace for long spells. But Day 1 of the Centurion Test against India on Tuesday saw a different mindset, which in its own way showcased why he is one of the best around.

South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada celebrates the wicket of India’s Virat Kohli during Day 1 of 1st Test between India and South Africa in the India tour of South Africa, 2023-24, at SuperSport Park, in Centurion(ICC Twitter)

He wasn’t charging in as he usually does. Rather, he seemed to amble in and bowl at around 135 kph. Given that Rabada had been struggling with a heel injury, one might have thought he was just taking it easy. But the way things panned out showed that he was just being smart.

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The match began in overcast conditions and the 28-year-old pacer decided that he didn’t need to be super quick. Instead, in the manner of Vernon Philander who was watching from the commentary box, he concentrated on line and length. The approach paid rich dividends as he finished the day with bowling figures of 5/44 before India reached 208/8 when play was called off due to rain.

The first blow of the day for the hosts was when Rabada outfoxed India skipper Rohit Sharma. Up to that point all the deliveries had been full, and in helpful conditions it made sense. But then when the short ball was suddenly bowled, Sharma — a batter who loves the pull and hook shots — decided to back himself to play it despite knowing that there was a fielder in the deep.

The confidence cost him, but Rabada clearly has something on the India skipper. He has dismissed Sharma six times in 10 innings — second most among all bowlers in Tests, only Nathan Lyon (with 10 dismissals) has done it more times.

Despite the conditions, the SA pacers were poor at times. Rabada was fantastic. Nandre Burger was very good. But Gerald Coetzee and Marco Jansen let things get away from them a bit.

So, South Africa needed Rabada to step up again and he did just that after tea when he broke a 68-run stand between Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer that seemed to have pegged the hosts back.

The ball that bowled Iyer came back sharply and seemed to keep a little low too. Unlucky one might say but luck had no part to play in the Kohli dismissal that followed soon after.

The difference between good and great bowlers is in the set-up. The good bowlers do the right things and hope it works. The great ones nudge the batter into making a mistake and that is exactly what Rabada did to Kohli.

He had kept things in the corridor — the only SA bowler to do it consistently — but many of those deliveries had come back into Kohli, who was batting from outside his crease. The former India skipper was content to defend against them. But the one that got him seemed to angle into the batter and then leave him. There was no pulling out of this one.

These days, Rabada seems to pick his games and even though he hasn’t played much Test cricket (his last Test was against West Indies in March), he again showed that he is a class act.

He followed the Kohli wicket by sending back R Ashwin with a delivery that seemed to bounce on him and then accounted for the dangerous Shardul Thakur. It completed his 14th fifer in Test cricket and strangely enough his first against India in any format.

By this point, India were struggling at 164/7. But Rabada, whose economy rate was 2.58, didn’t get too much support from his fellow bowlers. Jansen went at 3.46, Burger at 3.33 and Coetzee at 4.41. In tough conditions, their largesse was a gift.

But just like Rabada had once learned from Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Philander, perhaps it is time their younger generation starts learning from him. He is after all one of their all-time greats.

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