South Africa great Barry Richards believes the rise of Kagiso Rabada has “lessened the pain” of Dale Steyn’s absence ahead of a Test series in England.
Steyn, perhaps the best fast bowler of his generation, has been ruled out of the four-Test campaign with a longstanding shoulder problem that has sidelined him since the end of last year.
But Rabada has helped fill the gap, the 22-year-old quick taking 71 wickets in 17 Tests at an impressively low average of 23.69 since making his debut against India at Mohali in November 2015.
“I think a lot of people were really wobbly about Steyn and the injuries he’s had, the age group, he’s in,” said Richards, the outstanding opening batsman of the early 1970s, in London on Thursday.
“Then Rabada popped out of the woodwork and he’s been absolutely fantastic. He bowls at a good pace, nice, easy action. If conditions are right, he’ll swing it way which is a real asset for a fast bowler,” added Richards, speaking at an event staged by Test series sponsors Investec.
“From a South African point of view, he’s been fantastic for us and really lessened the pain of Dale Steyn not being in the set-up.
“But I think our fast-bowling stocks are pretty good. (Chris) Morris as an all-rounder, and then (Morne) Morkel — he always looks like he should do well but he always bowls that yard too short for me, so even when his good ball beats the bat it goes over the stumps.”
Renowned swing bowler Vernon Philander missed the Proteas’ three-day warm-up match against the second-string England Lions that started Thursday with an ankle injury suffered while playing for English county side Sussex a fortnight ago and Richards said: “Vernon is a worry for us for this coming series because he’s been in and out of injury.
“He’s fantastic when he’s on song but he needs need to keep his pace above 128 kph (79.5 mph). If his pace falls below that, he doesn’t become as effective because it doesn’t nip as quick you can adjust. But it’s hard to bowl at 128 and above for 20 overs a day.
“If there’s a little bit in the wicket, he’s a major factor.”
South Africa could give a debut in next week’s first Test at Lord’s to 33-year-old opener Heino Kuhn, who scored a double century and a century for South Africa A against Hampshire and the England Lions respectively on their recent tour of England.
The Proteas have struggled to find an opening partner for Dean Elgar since Graeme Smith’s retirement but hopes are high that Kuhn could help fill the void left by the former captain.
“He’s been around the traps for 12, 13 years now, been a big push for him to be included,” said Richards, whose career was limited to four Tests, in which he scored two hundreds and averaged over 72, by South Africa’s apartheid-enforced isolation.
“He’s mentally pretty stong but there’s always pressure. A Test match is a pressure, Lord’s is a pressure, your first Test match is a pressure. Stephen Cook, he’s 34, he’s had a go and they’ve been battling to get that position right.
“But if he (Kuhn) does it well, he’s got a (Test) career for three or four years.”
Richards said much would depend on star No 3 batsman Hashim Amla, now 34, being exposed too early in the innings, for all he has scored nearly 8,000 Test runs at a shade under 50 — including a highest score of 311 not out against England at The Oval in 2012.
“He’s starting to realise that everything that used to work so well at 25, doesn’t work so well at 34,” said Richards, who himself once scored 325 runs in a day’s play during a first-class match for South Australia against Western Australia at Perth in 1970/71.
“One of the key parts of the series is Hashim Amla versus the fast bowlers and Hashim Amla versus himself.”
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