Kagiso Rabada recalls the U19 World Cup, which set the foundation for superstardom

Kagiso Rabada recalls the U19 World Cup, which set the foundation for superstardom. Rabada reflected warmly on the emotions he felt as he stepped onto the pitch for the first time.

It’s been a decade since 18-year-old Kagiso Rabada captured the world’s attention in the United Arab Emirates. Rabada, who is now the second-ranked Test bowler in the ICC Rankings, was making his international debut in the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup. The dynamic bowler went on to take 14 wickets at 10.28 in the competition, assisting South Africa to victory, with senior international teammate Aiden Markram.

“I remember how excited we were for our U19 World Cup.” We progressed from playing against each other at the provincial level to playing together for South Africa. And that was significant because we could represent our country,” Rabada explained.

Rabada reflected warmly on the emotions he felt as he stepped onto the pitch 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 went on to say. It was really excited, and it was a step closer to fulfilling my dream of representing South Africa. And I was eager to get to the park.”

His first game against the West Indies could not have gone better. Given the ball by captain Markram and defending a modest score of 198 in Dubai, Rabada took the valuable wicket of another potential star, Shimron Heytmyer, with the fourth delivery.

“From there, we ran through them,” Rabada recalled. “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 competition included many other young players who are now household names, like Kuldeep Yadav and Shreyas Iyer (India), Imam-ul-Haq (Pakistan), and Nicholas Pooran (West Indies).

Rabada recalls the anticipation he felt before bowling to Pooran. “Everyone was talking about Nick Pooran. And they were saying, ‘He’s a big star to look out for. And he pushed me for a couple of boundaries, as evidenced by his current actions.”

After defeating the West Indies, South Africa cruised through their remaining group matches to go to the knockout stage. A stunning century from Markram ensured a smooth passage to the semi-finals, where the young Proteas faced Australia.

From 1999 to 2023, the Cricket World Cup semi-finals between respective senior teams provided thrilling matches. And the U19 clash in 2014 was no exception. South Africa started strongly with Markram and Fortuin, but Australia came back and held them to 230.

“I recall we started well with the bat in that game, with Clyde Fortuin and Aiden Markram putting up a solid partnership [105 for the first wicket]. When we dropped those two, Australia regained it, and I believe we were reduced to around 220 [230],” Rabada remarked.

Rabada truly established himself at this point

He led the way with the ball, scoring a spectacular 6/25 while tearing through Australia’s 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 remained high-pressure. “After bowling them out for 130, our coach Ray Jennings spoke in the changing room about 10 runs at a time. And that certainly put us under pressure up front,” Rabada said.

A strong 71-run partnership for the third wicket between Markram and Greg Oldfield calmed any fears.

“I recall Aiden Markram and Greg Oldfield forming a strong partnership in the context of the game, and from there we just cruised. When Bradley Dial scored the winning run, we all jumped from the ledge and went onto the field.”

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The competition provided an excellent exposure to high-pressure cricket for the young players.

“Each game was huge. And you have to deal with other mental problems that come your way, whether on or off the field,” Rabada explained. With an Under-19 World Cup, you’re making your international debut. There are more eyes on you, and you want to show the world how talented you are. And at that age, you want to impress. Your competitive spirit emerges, and you simply keep pursuing your ambition.”

Ahead of the tournament’s 2024 edition, Rabada urged all players to grasp the occasion.

The competition provided an excellent exposure to high-pressure cricket for the young players.

“Each game was huge. And you have to deal with other mental problems that come your way, whether on or off the field,” Rabada explained. With an Under-19 World Cup, you’re making your international debut. There are more eyes on you, and you want to show the world how talented you are. And at that age, you want to impress. Your competitive spirit emerges, and you simply keep pursuing your ambition.”

Ahead of the tournament’s 2024 edition, Rabada urged all players to grasp the occasion.

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