A resolute pair of pace setters

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It’s no surprise, then, that both Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander are tired of gym.

There has been time for a rest however, to take the mind off cricket, which in Rabada’s case was important following a hectic introduction to international cricket last summer.

“It’s been a great time to reflect about my game, about my life and learn a lot of things. I’ve done a lot of things other than cricket, so it’s been a bit more multi-dimensional,” said Rabada, who turns 21 on Wednesday.

That’s including spending more time on his music hobby – cutting house beats – and rapping on a TV talk-show.

The break’s done him good, but now he’s ready for more cricket with the South African squad departing for the West Indies on his birthday for a triangular series in the Caribbean featuring the hosts and world champions Australia.

Philander is not in that squad and is perhaps no longer seen as an option in the One-Day side. However, the 30-year-old, after playing in just one Test last season, is keen to re-establish himself in the Test team.

But whether that is alongside Rabada or in his stead is a question the selectors will have to grapple over come August when South Africa host New Zealand for two Tests.

As Rabada exploded onto the international scene last summer, a question that had many South Africa followers salivating – even as the national side stumbled from one calamity to the next – was: “What about a four-pronged pace attack, when Dale Steyn and Philander come back from injury?”

It’s certainly a mouth-watering prospect. But the anticipation and excitement is easier to handle than the actual practicalities of combining such an attack.

Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Morné Morkel will not be a quartet any batsman would relish facing, but there will be times when picking them all at once just won’t fit.

“It’s about combinations,” Philander correctly mused this past week, “and it will depend on what the coach wants.”

Philander’s tone implied a player desperate to prove himself all over again.

He last played a Test in India last November before injuring himself ahead of the second Test in

Bangalore, playing a pre-training football match.

He only returned towards the end of the season, playing two Sunfoil Series matches for the Cape Cobras in which he performed reasonably well.

“I do what I do, and what I do is unique,” he said.

In 32 Tests, he’s claimed 124 wickets, and the control he provides was certainly missed, particularly against England.

“We are all different types of bowlers in that set-up,” Philander added.

Add in the need for a spinner and the task in balancing that attack is one the selection panel will have to carefully consider.

Philander, of course, has an extra element to his game.

“When it comes to the batting side of things that’s a bonus for me too,” he said.

“I’ve played a couple of crucial innings and having someone like me who can bat at eight makes a massive difference.

“My all-round ability is something I’d like to see still being part of the fold. That’s what I bring to the party.”

Rabada’s no mug with the bat either, though his skills in that department aren’t as developed as Philander’s.

Neverthless, the steep learning curve of last season is something he believes will stand him in good stead for the season ahead.

That learning didn’t only include cricket, but also assimilating with new teammates.

“After this first season, I found my feet in the team and that helps on a personal level.

“You get to bond with the players, you get to know players more than when you first made it into the team,” he said.

“The dynamics off the field will help on the field as well.

“I know the players quite well now and it’s almost like going to a second home and in that sense it puts me in good stead.

“Hopefully the gelling will lead to winning performances on the field.”

For now, their paths go in separate directions.

Once the tour to West Indies ends, Rabada will join English county Kent for a one month stint.

Philander is aiming to be part of the South Africa A side that will play a couple of matches in Zimbabwe in July and hopes that through performances there, he can push for a spot in the squad for the Tests against New Zealand.

Whether he and Rabada will start together will be a topic for much debate.

It’s a pleasant headache to have, at least until a final XI has to be picked.

– The Sunday Independent


Stuart Hess speaks to Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander about the West Indies tour and beyond.

Original source: A resolute pair of pace setters

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