‘A pathway to my dreams’ – Kagiso Rabada reminisces U19 World Cup that set the stage for superstardom

Rabada looked back fondly at the emotions he experienced as he stepped onto the field for the first time.

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Kagiso Rabada
Kagiso Rabada. (Photo Source: X(Twitter)

It has been a decade since an 18-year-old Kagiso Rabada swayed the world’s attention in the United Arab Emirates. Rabada, now the No.2-ranked bowler in the ICC Rankings for Test bowlers, was making his first steps in international cricket at the time, at the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup. The exciting pacer went on to take 14 wickets at 10.28 in the tournament, helping South Africa to the title, alongside senior international teammate Aiden Markram.

“I remember we were really amped for our U19 World Cup. We went from playing against each other at the provincial level to playing with each other for South Africa. And that was a big deal because we could represent our country,” Rabada said.

Rabada looked back fondly at the emotions he experienced as he stepped onto the field for the first time.

“Back then, my mindset was to relish the environment that I was in and to announce myself on the world stage,” he said. It was extremely exciting, a pathway to my dreams to represent South Africa. And I was just itching to get on the park.”

His opening game, against West Indies, couldn’t have gone any better. Given the ball by captain Markram, and defending a modest total of 198 in Dubai, Rabada claimed the prized wicket of another future star, Shimron Heytmyer, off the fourth ball.

“From there, we ran through them,” Rabada said. “That was a great start to the competition, especially the way we had started with the bat in that game.”

Apart from Rabada and Markram, the tournament involved many other youngsters who are now household names – Kuldeep Yadav and Shreyas Iyer (India), Imam-ul-Haq (Pakistan) and Nicholas Pooran (West Indies).

Rabada still remembers the anticipation he had before bowling to Pooran. “Everyone was talking about Nicholas Pooran. And they were saying, ‘He’s a real star to watch out for’. And he drove me for a couple of boundaries and you can see what he does to date.”

After defeating West Indies, South Africa won their other group encounters with ease to march into the knockout stage. A brilliant century from Markram ensured an easy entry into the semi-finals, where the young Proteas squared up against Australia.

From 1999 to 2023, Cricket World Cup semi-finals between their senior sides have produced riveting contests. And the U19 clash in 2014 was no different. South Africa started well with Markram and Fortuin, but Australia then fought back and restricted them to 230.

“I remember we started well with the bat in that game – Clyde Fortuin and Aiden Markram put up a good partnership [105 for the first wicket]. When we lost those two, Australia brought it back, and I think we got reduced to about 220 [230],” Rabada said.

It was then that Rabada really laid down a marker. He led the charge with the ball, picking a sensational 6/25 while running through the Australia top-order and blowing away the tail.

“We had to put in a good performance with the ball. We were nice and aggressive up front. Again, got some early wickets and from there, everyone was just on it. We took all our chances and the game was ours.”

A confident South Africa faced Pakistan in the Final, where Rabada continued to shine. He dismissed Imam early, and his economical 1/26 helped restrict Pakistan to 131.

The chase was still a high-pressure situation. “At that stage, having bowled them out for 130, our coach Ray Jennings, in the change room spoke about 10 runs at a time. And it did put us under pressure up front,” Rabada said.

A solid 71-run partnership for the third wicket, between Markram and Greg Oldfield, settled any nerves.

“I remember Aiden Markram and Greg Oldfield put up quite a big partnership in the scheme of the game and from there we kind of just cruised. When Bradley Dial hit the winning runs, we all jumped off the ledge and ran onto the field.”

The tournament was a solid introduction to high-pressure cricket for the young players.

“Every game was a huge game. And one had to deal with other mental challenges that come your way, whether it’s on the field or off the field,” Rabada said. You’re announcing yourself on the world stage with an Under-19 World Cup. There are more eyes on you, and you want to show the world how good you are. And when you are that age, you want to impress. Your competitive spirit comes out and you just keep living your dream.”

Ahead of the 2024 edition of the tournament, Rabada called on all the players in the tournament to seize the moment.

“My message before the World Cup is that it’s a huge privilege and honour to represent the country,” he said. “As an individual, it’s a big stage to announce yourself and you can prove to everyone that you can dominate on the world stage. You can expect to see some future stars, and you can expect to see some future greats. And you can claim that you saw them first.”

The ICC Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup in South Africa will begin on January 19 with the final set to be played on February 11.

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