Among the hearings and sanctions and violations of the ICC’s code of conduct over the last four days, South Africa also won a Test match and levelled a series. But the yin came with the yang. Their best performer was also their chief offender and while much has been made about Kagiso Rabada’s suspension from the next two Tests, not as much has been said of his performance, which is worthy of great praise.
Rabada took 11 for 141, with five-fors in both innings to become the South African with the second-best figures against Australia after Hugh Tayfield’s 13 for 165 in the pre-isolation era. It was also his fourth ten-for in his 28-Test career. Only Dale Steyn has more ten-wicket hauls; one more.
“We have to single out KG,” South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said. “A lot has been said about how amazing KG’s rise is, best strike-rate in world cricket at the moment or ever, so I don’t think you have to say too much more. To have him in your side as a captain is a huge pleasure. The skill he has to make the ball talk in both directions. Both teams have very high-class reverse swing bowlers, but what makes KG so special is he does it both ways at pace, and he doesn’t give a lot of bad balls away. And I honestly think he will get better, so I’m really excited to see what happens in his future.”
Rabada’s strike-rate currently sits at 38.9 . In the last 100 years, only New Zealand’s Shane Bond has a better figure – 38.7 – and Rabada already has 54 more wickets than Bond managed in his entire career. His five wickets in 18 balls in the first innings put South Africa in a position of strength but it took the batsmen to hammer the point home.
After South Africa’s seniors were shown-up in the first Test, there were concerns. But with Aiden Markram’s 143 and Quinton de Kock’s 83 at Kingsmead, there came hope that things would get better. “In the second innings in Durban, which was a peg in the ground for us as a batting unit, to have two young guys put up their hand and with Quinny put some nice batting and show some character to get runs on the board,” du Plessis said.
In Port Elizabeth, Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla planted roots with patient half centuries that frustrated the Australian attack. “As you saw in the first innings, it was important for us to absorb a little bit. Australia are going to have times when they put you under pressure and we absorbed brilliantly with Dean and Hashim, making sure the bowlers stay out there and bowl third and fourth spells,” du Plessis said.
And then it was time for South Africa’s superstar. “It set it up for an AB masterclass, which is the perfect situation for him to come in and transfer that pressure,” du Plessis said.
De Villiers scored his first hundred since coming back from a near two year absence from the Test side. This could still be his last big Test rubber but for as long as he is scoring runs, du Plessis is only too happy to be able to call on him.
“As I mentioned before the series, I could see in his eyes that he had a huge hunger and the stuff that we spoke about before this series as a team, he was extremely hungry to make a play. I said to him last night I’m just really pleased to see that he is walking the talk. All the stuff that he spoke about, he’s coming through with it,” du Plessis said. “I am really looking forward to see what he is going to do for the rest of the series. When he’s in that sort of form, I’m very happy to have him in my side.”
Du Plessis reveled in an “incredible” Test match victory for South Africa which showed the “huge character and pride in our team,” best epitomised by Rabada, send-offs excluded. The 22-year old even did his bit with the bat when he walked in as the nightwatchman on the first evening, after being in the field for most of the day and survived through to the second morning.
“I remember against India, I bowled the whole day, then Faf asked me to be nightwatchman. I was like ‘ya sure, I’ll do it’. Same thing happened in this Test match. We talked about it and said should we not maybe send Keshav in but it was no, no, no, we want you. I said, ‘ok fine, let’s do it,'” Rabada said. “I went out and even some of the Australians made some jokes. They said I’ve been bowling the whole day and now I’ve come to bat. They called me Braveheart, etc etc. It doesn’t stop.”
Braveheart or not, Rabada is highly unlikely to feature in the rest of the series, which will deny South Africa use of the highest wicket-taker in the series so far and their own best performer. With Dale Steyn also out of contention for Newlands because he has not played the required franchise first-class game, Morne Morkel should slot back in to say farewell to Cape Town, in his final series.
But first, there is a 10-day break between this game and the next, which is enough time for the dust to settle. Both teams will take most of the rest of this week off with South Africa reconvening in Cape Town next Monday. While the two Tests have provided enough talking points to fill the time, du Plessis is urging his team to think about other things before immersing themselves back into an intense contest. “It is important that you switch off.,” he said. “We’ve had two back-to-back highly contested Tests. It’s important to get bodies and minds ready.”