Rabada, with help, can break new ground

Johannesburg - If ever there was any doubt, Saturday night confirmed that Kagiso Rabada is South African cricket’s biggest and brightest star.

Having turned 23 last week, Rabada cleaned up at the CSA Awards ceremony in Sandton where he was named Cricketer of the Year, Players' Player of the Year, Test Player of the Year, ODI Player of the Year and Fans' Player of the Year while he also won Delivery of the Year for the ball that sent David Warner's off stump cartwheeling in the third Test against Australia at Newlands. 

He left with six awards on the night, but Rabada was cool and composed throughout, directing the praise towards his team-mates at every available opportunity.

It was an explosive season from the top-ranked bowler in Test cricket, both on and off the field.

Rabada took 57 Test wickets in 2017, finishing behind only Australia’s Nathan Lyon (63), and in 2018 he is the world's leading wicket taker so far with 38 scalps from just seven Tests against India and Australia. 

Rabada has been at his most dangerous on the Test stage over the past 12 months, but he is also ranked No 7 in the world in ODI cricket and will be key to South Africa's charge at next year's World Cup in England and Wales.

The numbers are already staggering.

Rabada has 143 Test wickets from just 30 matches at an average of 21.59 while he has 75 wickets from his 48 ODIs. At this rate, there is no telling where he will end up, but the possibility of smashing every South African bowling record on offer is a very real one. 

That, of course, all depends on him staying fit. 

Rabada has a naturally smooth action, and that works in his favour, but with the sheer volume of cricket in the modern era he will have to be carefully managed moving forward. He is starting to realise that too. 

Just over a year ago, Rabada sat in a press conference in Cape Town during the Sri Lanka series and snapped back sharply at suggestions that he may be forced to have a rest at some stage.

Fast-forward one year to the end of the Australia series in Johannesburg where Rabada acknowledged that he was tired and in need of a break.

He has a burning desire to play every single match for the Proteas, but even in the middle of that exuberance Rabada is beginning to realise that there needs to be more strategic thinking at play here. 

Rabada missed this year's IPL with a back strain, and while that may be a blessing for the Proteas in the long run with the World Cup in sight, it should also serve as a warning. 

The IPL is the pay day that takes cricketers to the next level, financially, and Rabada will want in on that as much as anyone. It is only fair, after all, that he maximises his ability while he can. 

CSA needs to be mindful of that. 

The IPL must be factored into Rabada's workload, because like it or not, he will be a star of that tournament for years to come. 

The recent retirement of AB de Villiers shows just how draining the IPL can be. De Villiers went from committed to the Proteas cause to out of international cricket entirely during this year's showpiece in India, and much of that would have had to do with South Africa's upcoming tour of Sri Lanka. 

De Villiers, simply, doesn't want to go on that tour. He, like Rabada was at the end of the Australian series, is tired. 

Whether or not De Villiers' situation could have been managed better from CSA's side is grounds for a different discussion, but it has shown that there needs to be sensible long-term strategies in place to protect the country's top players. 

The simple goal is for CSA to ensure that they get the absolute most out of this rare talent.

De Villiers, for a long time, has been the Proteas' biggest asset, their most destructive weapon and the face of cricket in South Africa. That mantle, almost immediately, has now been passed to Rabada. 

He is, and will be for the next decade, South African cricket’s most prized possession. It may seem like it can’t get any better for him right now, but Rabada’s star is still rising.

If CSA and Proteas management play their cards right, they have a player who is on course to go down as one of the greatest the game has ever seen.  

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ... 

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