Dubai - Kagiso Rabada’s primary discipline is to charge in. Bowl fast, deliver yorkers, and take wickets. It’s a straight-forward memo.
At the halfway stage of South Africa’s epic T20 World Cup clash against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, Rabada would have felt that he had not executed.
He had conceded 32 runs in his three overs with 17 runs, which included a six and two consecutive boundaries leaking off the final balls of his spell. It allowed Sri Lanka to add 48 valuable runs in the last five overs of their innings, which in the context of this gripping encounter was bitterly close to getting them over the line.
The fact that it wasn’t is due to Rabada taking his secondary skill much more seriously lately. Having always possessed a Lara-esque cover drive in his armoury, but more inclined to showing it off than actually utilising it as part of anything substantial, there has been a mind shift change of late.
Rabada is a clever cricketer. He possesses astute game awareness and were it not for the game’s aversion to elevating fast bowlers to leadership positions, Rabada would in all likelihood have been South Africa’s captain already.
But this transformation was not a result of a sudden blinding light conversation. It’s more an understanding that the balance of the South African team often tilts uncomfortably in whichever which way.
It is because of this fact that he knows that coming at No 8 – more often than not when required – there will be a game on the line, as was precisely the case on Saturday in Sharjah.
“I think that's what is on my mind, and I know that there's always a chance that I can come in and bat,” Rabada prophetically said just last week. “I look to score as many runs as I can because wherever you can play a hand it’s contributing to a winning team performance. It's (batting) an area that I've been working on.”
Its eminently satisfactory culmination arrived in the climactic stages on Saturday. Rabada had hurriedly joined South Africa’s last specialist batter David Miller at the crease after Hasaranga de Silva completed a sensational hat-trick over to put Sri Lanka in the ascendency.
The Hasaranga hat-trick actually had Rabada flummoxed as he was almost timed out trying to get out in the middle whilst strapping on gloves and thigh pads. The mayhem increased ten-fold when Hasaranga struck him flush on the pads first delivery before going off on another raucous celebration in anticipation of a fourth wicket in as many deliveries.
Fortunately for Rabada, and South Africa, the UDRS showed the ball that the ball had pitched outside the left-hander’s leg stump.
The heat was still on though. The rate was escalating with every diminishing ball and Miller had not found his groove yet. Something drastic needed to be done. An individual moment of brilliance was required if South Africa were to climb out of a dark hole with the equation now reduced to 22 runs off just nine balls.
Enter Rabada. No, sorry that’s actually Brian Charles Lara.
With Dushmantha Chameera missing his length by a mere fraction, Rabada cleared his left leg to make room for a full swing of the willow beautifully through the line.
The contact was sweet and the ball soared delightfully over the long-off boundary for six. It was the moment that revitalized the South African dug out.
“There’s a joke running around in the team; that he's always got the shot of the day, no matter what the situation is. Again, he pulled out a special six,” Proteas teammate Tabraiz Shamsi enthused.
“I think there's no need for us to be surprised anymore because he does it so often, and he puts in a lot of work behind the scenes. I'm so happy with the way he's batting, and winning games for us with both the ball and the bat.”
But the work wasn’t done just yet. And the adrenaline which was now pumping through those stellar Rabada veins was in overflow, which was why he missed out on a freebie the very next ball when Chameera sent down a wayward full toss.
Calmness was required. Stay in the moment KG. Six balls, 15 runs. Rabada facing the first ball from Lahiru Kumara.
No hero thoughts. Just get Miller on strike.
And that's exactly what Rabada did allowing Miller to pull off an "Asif Ali" with two crisp strikes over mid-wicket before trodding through for a single to hand the strike back to Rabada.
There was no protection of the "lesser batter". Rabada had showed that he could absorb the pressure of a T20 World Cup run-chase and fittingly took South Africa home with an outside edge that flew down to the third man boundary.
The job had been completed under the most trying of circumstances with Rabada filling his teammates with the confidence that this could indeed be the start of something special.
"We have won these kinds of moments more often than we have lost them. That's a huge positive," Shamsi said.
"I do think T20 cricket is a game you need a little bit of luck, as well, to go your way. But if we didn't believe that we can win this World Cup, we'd probably be sitting at home and watching on our television sets. That's exactly -- that's not what we're here for. We are here to win the World Cup."