Cape Town - It would have seemed unthinkable two or three years ago: the possibility of pedigreed strike bowler Kagiso Rabada not being able to justify a spot for South Africa in a major ICC tournament.
But that scenario, frankly, is inching uncomfortably closer.
The long-time jewel in the Proteas’ fast bowling crown - especially since ageing Dale Steyn significantly scaled down his format availability - continues to find Twenty20 international cricket a surprisingly “difficult” environment.
So much so, that his presence in the squad to travel in some eight months’ time to Australia for the latest T20 World Cup isn’t looking nearly as assured, considering recent statistical returns, as most observers would expect.
Rabada isn’t the only source of concern, in fairness to him: several squad-mates, including some with substantial experience, are skating on thin ice as selection only looks increasingly more complex for the wrong reasons in the gradual lead-up to the global event.
But the fact that prized international asset “KG” is labouring so much must be considered of particular angst to the brains trust, after successive 2-1 home series reverses in the format ... to England (though he wasn’t involved) and now Australia as well.
Now 24, so in a period where he should only be building up toward his prime, Rabada has been finding standout success strangely hard to come by in all three landscapes for some time, after those quite thunderous strides in his earliest period for the national team.
Just for example, he had a moderate 50-overs World Cup (his last exposure to the ODI arena) in the UK last year, taking 11 wickets in nine appearances (though only eight bowling opportunities) at 36.09, his average being inferior to five compatriots in the SA attack: an unusual occurrence for a player with such superlative prior standards.
Perhaps more surprisingly, he has also gone 27 innings in Test cricket without registering a five-wicket haul.
But it is in T20s where Rabada has been taking special stick ... a hallmark prevalent, really, since around this time four years ago.
Figures starkly reveal that the now 24-capped paceman, in his first dozen bowling showings before early March 2016, only “travelled” at more than nine runs to the over twice in the period (beginning with debut against Australia at Adelaide in November 2014).
But in the most recent 12 bowling outings for South Africa - starting against the same Aussies at Newlands on March 9, 2016 - Rabada has contrastingly gone nine-plus, in run concession terms, on a worrying nine occasions.
That includes some decidedly unflattering returns in the just completed series against the Australians: 3-0-45-0 in Johannesburg, a much-improved 4-0-27-1 in Port Elizabeth, but then another pasting (4-0-42-1) at Newlands on Wednesday.
By leaking at a damagingly high combined rate of 10.36, Rabada sported the worst economy of all eight Proteas bowlers employed at various stages in the series (Tabraiz Shamsi was premier performer on that front, at 6:08).
Rabada, remember, was intended to hit the combat against the old southern foe a rejuvenated figure after a welcome, deserved break from the demands of top-flight cricket following completion of the Test series against England (where he missed the key final clash through suspension anyway).
Although his pace levels on return have generally been encouraging, the Highveld-born favourite has very much been part of a pattern of inconsistency in lines and lengths by the SA seamers over the course of the last few days.
He also suffered the expensive indignity on Wednesday of bowling Steve Smith with a beautiful slower delivery, only to have the dismissals over-ruled by discovery that he had over-stepped, leaving the star batsman with a free hit - Smith got stuck lustily into Anrich Nortje’s closing over very shortly afterwards.
Any decision not to take Rabada to the T20 World Cup would hardly be taken lightly; he really should be too good a figure to leave out.
But we are awkwardly approaching the need for earnest debate by the selectors along those lines ...
Rabada’s last 12 bowling analyses in T20 internationals (from most recent):
4-0-42-1 (Australia, Cape Town)
4-0-27-1 (Australia, Port Elizabeth)
3-0-45-0 (Australia, Johannesburg)
4-0-39-3 (India, Bengaluru)
3-0-24-0 (India, Mohali)
4-0-42-1 (Sri Lanka, Cape Town)
2-0-21-0 (Australia, Carrara)
4-0-24-2 (Sri Lanka, Colombo)
3.4-0-38-1 (West Indies, Nagpur)
4-0-37-2 (Afghanistan, Mumbai)
4-0-50-2 (England, Mumbai)
4-0-38-1 (Australia, Cape Town)
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