The last time Kagiso Rabada was in India, a lower back strain forced him to bail out during the business end of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL).
It’s an injury that cost him the chance to finish the tournament as the highest wicket taker, and it can be argued that it also robbed him of the sharpness he had found during that competition when it came to the Cricket World Cup in England.
On Friday, Rabada left for India with the rest of the Proteas team intent on repeating his IPL heroics in the three T20s and three tests the two sides will play, hopefully banishing the memories of an uncharacteristically flat World Cup along the way.
“I wasn’t clicking in terms of my form,” he said about a disappointing World Cup this week. “It was disappointing because I wasn’t on my A-game. That is unfortunate, but time moves on. It’s a landmark that I’ll always look back on, to acknowledge what happened and try to rectify it.”
While the T20s will be a familiar way of easing himself back into form, Rabada is not sure his past success in the IPL will count for much in tests, where India could pull another fast one by preparing wickets that turn from day one to neutralise South Africa’s quicks.
“Test match cricket is a whole different dynamic. We’re not really sure what type of wickets they are going to prepare, but the nice thing is I’ve experienced a bit of subcontinent cricket, especially in tests.
“So whatever they give us, we have an idea of what it might be and an idea of how to approach it. But I wouldn’t compare my T20 form with test cricket as they are two different games, but what I’ve learnt playing in the subcontinent should help.”
Still only 24, Rabada returns to India – a place where he made his test debut four years ago – as one of the more experienced players in a team that has an entirely new coaching staff, boasts a new coaching structure and has lost two giants in Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn.
Looking at the coaching structure, which has Enoch Nkwe as the interim team director, Rabada said it wasn’t as formal in practice as it sounds.
“It doesn’t feel very different at all. When you look at the structure, it looks different, but it doesn’t feel that different because you’ve still got your coaches who are allocated to do different things.
“So when you’re in the team environment, it doesn’t feel as corporate as it looks when you look at the structure. But, from a corporate point of view, it makes a lot of sense.”
With much conjecture having accompanied Nkwe’s appointment, Rabada also weighed in on a man who had coached him as a younger player.
“I’ve known Enoch since my Under-17s days. He’s a very structured and passionate guy, and he always expects professionalism and the best from us. That’s what he also brings, but he’s also quite an easy guy who always has a smile on his face.”
Getting back into camp this week, Rabada had the most rest he’s had since first playing for the Proteas five years ago, something he “thoroughly enjoyed” by spending time with family and friends, catching up on his growing list of endorsements and doing magazine shoots.
On the public narrative that a man his age has to have been overworked to have already bowled 6 830 balls in 37 tests, Rabada partly agrees with it without wanting to pay too much attention to it.
“I think one shouldn’t be worried about what the public is saying. Maybe they are looking out for me, maybe it is true, but if I focus my energy on the public, I’m not focusing my energy on the right thing,” he said.
“Probably it has been a lot, but I only see opportunities to try to fix that – there’s no need to panic or be overly dramatic about it.”
As a fast bowling fan – the youngster can give you chapter and verse on pretty much every fast bowler who ever drew breath – the emergence of the new gun in town, England’s Jofra Archer, hasn’t escaped him.
“He’s a natural talent, a natural bowler – you can’t teach what he does. He just has it, that’s all I can say.”
But he wouldn’t be drawn on the series against England later in the year being about the two of them.
“The important thing for me is to win and not to really compete with Jofra. While competition is healthy and necessary – he wants to be the best and I want to be the best – when we play, what’s important is winning for my team.”