The St Stithians Boys College is only 10 kilometres from the Wanderers, imposingly mapped at the heart of Johannesburg. Stithians is where Kagiso Rabada did all his schooling, and the Wanderers is where Radaba bunked his classes to be. It’s not sure whether he was at the Wanderers on November 19, 2011. If he was lounging in the grass banks, he would have witnessed one of the finest exhibitions of fast bowling in recent times.
Even if he wasn’t, or was watching it from the telly, or didn’t watch it at all, the news of the latest pace-bowling sensation, Pat Cummins, bursting forth must have filled him with utter awe. Cummins, just two years older than him, reducing South Africa’s most fearsome batting triumvirate ever—Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis—to nervous wrecks. Somewhere in his heart, Rabada would have wanted to be like Cummins and hoped to meet him, or even compete with him.
It finally took six years for the Stithians schoolboy and the tearaway Aussie sensation to cross each other’s path, when both were snaffled by Delhi Daredevils in this year’s auction (for a combined price of Rs 9.5 crore). Their first meeting might have been in a plush hotel room of a city, far removed from Johannesburg or Sydney in distance and spirit.
The perceptions about them too have changed, or rather, reversed—Rabada is what Cummins was then, a young pace-bowling sensation, who every aspiring young pacer wants to be. So when finally they met, there seemed to be less of awe, but more of camaraderie, like they are equals.
They are. In fact, when you skim through their numbers, Rabada easily noses ahead of Cummins, who though gave a timely memo of his undisputed prowess, foremost among them the sheer thrill of his pace, in Ranchi and Dharamsala.
Nonetheless, them operating in tandem could be a thrilling, and rare, sight in the IPL. Rabada, gliding in with his lucid action, searing in yorkers. Cummins, his heavy landing almost crushing the soil underneath his boots, unfurling wicked bouncers. Rabada can fracture the toes; Cummins can distort the rib cage. Even before they bowl their first ball in IPL, they can inspire dread in batsmen. They risk runs in this format, and half of their matches will be played at the notoriously-slow Kotla track, but they can make a quick impact, at any point in time, and change the destiny of the match.
Or so trusts skipper Zaheer Khan: “Genuine pace can rattle all batsmen, irrespective of the format. No batsman likes the ball coming in at 145 kmph or in excess onto their body. They can win you matches. And we have different type of bowlers in our team.”
One among the “different” bowlers in Zaheer himself, who, by his own admission, his will be more of a passive presence.
“At different phases of your career, you have to adopt different roles. Now it’s about guiding the young fast bowlers, young men who need your help, whom I can pass on my experience. But the group of fast bowlers we have, I strongly believe, is our biggest strength,” he says. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra is another.
Their brains-trust might have been inspired by Sunrisers Hyderabad’s triumph last year, fashioned to a large extent by the collective work of Mustafizur Rahman and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both picking up 40 wickets between them. So at least on paper, they have assembled a lethal fast bowling unit—Cummins and Rabada, Zaheer himself, and then all-rounders Chris Morris, Corey Anderson, Carlos Brathwaite and Angelo Mathews. So much so that you wonder how all of them could be accommodated. Zaheer swears by the word “depth”.
Four of them — Morris and Brathwaite aside — were purchased this year, clearly showing their motif this season, which is to coax the missing IPL silverware—they are the only franchise, barring the recent entrants, to not reach an IPL final. Interestingly, Delhi have in the past showed this propensity to stack up their squad with players of similar skill-set—like in the initial editions, they were fixated with big-hitting batsmen—in 2012, they splurged Ross Taylor, Glenn Maxwell and Kevin Pietersen.
Then they began to indulge Indian seamers—all of Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Ajit Agarkar Mohammad Shami, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan have donned the Daredevils’ jersey in the last three years. Then it seemed, they were fixated with young batsmen, who are also decent wicket-keepers. For example, they can choose between Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant and Sam Billings (and they also had Quinton de Kock, who would miss this season due to injury).
The redundancy of one aspect, though, has only magnified the deficiency of the other. For instance, their batting looks largely reliant on young Indian batsmen like Sanju, Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Karun Nair. “Why not?,” asks Zaheer, before he points out, “These youngsters are no longer youngsters. They are seasoned campaigners with some experience. Look at Karun Nair, who is a triple centurion and Shreyas Iyer, who is now a part of the Test team.”
Zaheer promises a revival with a this-time-for-sure certitude. “You can expect more things,” he defiantly avers. Why not, when he has Rabada and Cummins up his sleeve.