Has Rabada been overbowled? What the stats say ...

Kagiso Rabada (Gallo)
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo)

Cape Town - The last thing the Proteas needed was Kagiso Rabada, potentially their biggest weapon going into the 2019 World Cup, injured. 

Yet, that is what they have been dished up as their tournament plans continue to be plagued by niggles and fitness concerns in the fast bowling ranks. 

The extent of the 23-year-old's back strain will only be known after further medical examination when he returns to South Africa on Friday, but whichever way you look at it, this is not good news for South Africa. 

Even with everyone fit, Rabada holds the key for the Proteas in London. 

Nobody in world cricket has taken more international wickets than Rabada since the completion of the 2015 World Cup, and he is undoubtedly the trump card in a Proteas side that is placing a lot of emphasis on its fast bowling. 

International wickets since 2015 World Cup (Tests, ODIs and T20Is):

1. Kagiso Rabada (SA) - 306

2. Trent Boult (NZ) - 277

3. Ravi Ashwin (India) - 268

4. Mitchell Starc (Aus) - 235

5. Moeen Ali (Eng) - 226

With Dale Steyn suffering from an injured shoulder and Lungi Ngidi (side strain) and Anrich Nortje (shoulder) having only just returned to competitive bowling, the Proteas have none of their four premier fast bowlers fully fit with just two weeks to go until the plane leaves for England. 

In the cases of Rabada and Steyn, the IPL has struck. 

Steyn lasted just two games for Royal Challengers Bangalore, so one can't suggest that his injury was down to the demands of the tournament, but Rabada's case is different. 

Yes, it may 'only' be T20 cricket and, yes, bowlers 'only' bowl four overs, but if you speak to the players who are part of the IPL many will tell you just how much it takes out of them. 

It is not just the cricket and the training, but also the relentless humidity and the constant travel demands that accompany cricket's most lucrative roadshow. It all contributes towards a physically, mentally and emotionally draining six-week tournament. 

Another factor that often escapes unnoticed is just how frenzied the entire experience is. The Indian fans are borderline hysterical, especially when it comes to catching a glimpse of the international superstars on offer. 

It means that, for the players, there are no quiet nights out and very little down time. It is chaos, start to finish, and it takes its toll. 

Before missing Wednesday's clash against the Chennai Super Kings, Rabada had played in all 12 matches for the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2019, claiming 25 wickets in the process to top those charts. 

Perhaps Rabada should have played less cricket in the IPL this year, but when looking at his international workload, it is easy to see that he was overworked long before this year's IPL. 

Rabada made his Test debut towards the end of 2015, so 2016 was his first full year as a regular Protea. 

An instant superstar, Rabada has been ever-present for the national side in all formats since then. In fact, no fast bowler in world cricket has bowled more than Rabada since January 1 2016.

Most international balls bowled since January 1 2019 (Test, ODI, T20I):

1. Nathan Lyon (Aus) - 11 340

2. Moeen Ali (Eng) - 10 198

3. Ravi Ashwin (Ind) - 10 090

4. Kagiso Rabada (SA) - 9 635

5. Ravindra Jadeja (Ind) - 9 289 

Rabada is the only fast bowler on that top-five list, with the other four all spinners. It is a statistic that could be used to justify the notion that Rabada has been overworked at international level since breaking onto the scene as a 19-year-old. 

New Zealand's Trent Boult is the next fast bowler on that list having notched up 8 776 deliveries since the beginning of 2016, followed by Australia's Josh Hazlewood with 8 437.  

Of all the fast bowlers going to the World Cup, Sri Lanka's Suranga Lakmal is next with 7 453 deliveries to his name, followed by Mitchell Starc (7 288), Mohammed Amir (6 982), Tim Southee (6 933) and Jason Holder (6 882)

India's Jasprit Bumrah, considered the World Cup's major fast bowling threat alongside Rabada, has bowled just 5 840 balls across all formats in that time frame. 

With 101 international matches across all formats in the last three years, Rabada is easily the most worked fast bowler in the world. 

The word 'precautionary' was used by Cricket South Africa in describing the decision to recall Rabada from the IPL on Friday. 

Hopefully, that's all it is. 

But if, in a worst-case scenario, the Proteas lose their biggest weapon on the eve of their most important challenge since Rabada became a Proteas, then a look back at the last three and a bit years might help explain why. 

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ... 

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