Two of the world's most exciting fast bowlers, Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada.
Two of the world's most exciting fast bowlers, Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada.

How new pace kingpin rose from Cummins’ shadow

IN 2011, Pat Cummins made his Test debut for Australia in South Africa.

He did not disappoint, earning man-of-the-match honours with figures of 6-79.

He was only 18 years-old, and he was already blessed with nearly everything a fast bowler could dream of: pace, bounce, swing and seam.

It was in Johannesburg that a fast-bowling superstar was born - but it was not Cummins.

Fifteen years before the tearaway from NSW was running riot in South Africa's biggest city, Kagiso Rabada opened his eyes for the first time.

He was still in high school when Cummins hit the winning runs off Imran Tahir to push Australia to the top of the Test rankings in 2011.

Fast forward six and a bit years and Rabada is arguably the premier fast bowler in the world - England veteran James Anderson is the only quick above him on the Test rankings - while Cummins has only got back on the road to being in the debate.

But while the two have enjoyed very different careers to this point, they go into Thursday's first Test as the sport's two most exciting young fast bowlers.

Like Cummins, Rabada got a taste of international cricket early. After excelling in the Under-19 World Cup in 2014 - he took the second most wickets for the tournament (14 at 10.28) - he was handed his first international cap.

Australia's Pat Cummins (L) celebrates a wicket during the Ashes.
Australia's Pat Cummins (L) celebrates a wicket during the Ashes.

It was unremarkable, with the 19-year-old conceding 27 runs across three wicketless overs.

Better things were to come. Seven months later he became just the second player in one-day international history to take a hat-trick on debut, finishing with the best figures of a debutant (6-16) ever against Bangladesh.

"I didn't dream of a start like this," he said before reflecting on his hat-trick securing delivery.

"That was a fluke. I went for a yorker and missed it by miles."

It should have been clear then that this was a man the cricketing gods were fond of.

He followed that up by taking down India in India (10 wickets at 24.41), notably holding his nerve by defending 11 runs in the final over of game one against MS Dhoni.

 

Cummins appeals for LBW against England's Dawid Malan during the Ashes.
Cummins appeals for LBW against England's Dawid Malan during the Ashes.

But tougher things were to come for Rabada. Called up to play Test cricket off the back of that blockbuster series, he had a tough time of it in India. While Cummins came onto the Test scene with a bang, Rabada barely fizzled on the subcontinent's dustbowls, picking up two wickets in three matches.

But there's something about Johannesburg and young quicks. Back in his home city Rabada roared, taking a maiden Test five-wicket haul against England in the absence of injured senior bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

It was not enough to prevent a seven-wicket win for England but Rabada had officially arrived. Like Cummins five years earlier, in the altitudes of Johannesburg the South African proved himself a fast bowler with the lot - extreme pace, sharp bounce and movement off the pitch and in the air.

However, unlike the Australian he really did have everything a fast bowler could dream of. On top of his ability he had a body that was ready for the rigours of international cricket.

South African bowler Kagiso Rabada has become one of the world’s premier quicks.
South African bowler Kagiso Rabada has become one of the world’s premier quicks.

Rabada has enjoyed the career everybody in Australian cricket dreamt Cummins would all those years ago when he terrorised Jacques Kallis at the Bullring in a performance so good it garnered comparisons to Dale Steyn.

"I see a similarity with him and Dale Steyn, when he came into the South African team," then-Australia coach Micky Arthur Said.

"The similarities are uncanny except that Pat Cummins is a lot younger, which makes it all the more exciting."

As it turned out, possibly too young - Cummins flew home from that tour with a tender left heel that was later diagnosed to be a bone stress injury that ruled him out of the entirety of the home summer.

He'd miss the next two summers with stress fractures in his back and was only fit enough for List A cricket in 2014-15.

By 2015 he was being spoken of as a Test prospect again after surviving 12th man duties in the Ashes and impressing in the ODI leg of the tour (12 wickets at 19.67).

An all-too-common sight: Cummins returns from the 2015 one-day tour of England due to injury.
An all-too-common sight: Cummins returns from the 2015 one-day tour of England due to injury.

It was enough to earn him a call-up for the eventually doomed two-Test tour of Bangladesh. Alas, his body once again let him down with the quick suffering another stress fracture in his back.

He'd spend another summer on the sidelines.

And while Cummins reacquainted himself with a long, lonely and all too familiar rehabilitation process, Rabada took the game by storm.

When the two quicks meet in Durban, Rabada will have 120 Test wickets to his name at just 22.04 runs apiece and a claim to being the world's best fast bowler.

He's already taken seven five-wicket hauls and taken 10 wickets in a match three times. His match figures of 13-144 in just his sixth Test are the second best in South African history.

Last month he sat atop the Test bowling rankings but he remains unsatisfied.

"There's always something you can improve on. Once you get something right, there's always something new that you can work on," he said.

"I just need to just do more and more, striving for perfection. You are never going to reach perfection but at least [try to] get there and thereabouts."

 

Cummins appeals for LBW against England's Dawid Malan during the Ashes.
Cummins appeals for LBW against England's Dawid Malan during the Ashes.

If you ask his captain, Rabada has already got there.

"Even when he's bowling not so well, as a captain I'm really happy to have in my team," du Plessis said. "He's just a guy that tries really hard. He's never got any dramas. Basically the perfect bowler for a captain, because exactly what I ask him to do, he does.

"He's an extreme talent."

Du Plessis said that in January last year.

Since then Cummins has finally got himself back on the same track as Rabada. He has a long way to go to catch up, but with his injury woes seemingly behind him there is no reason to believe he cannot.

Despite all those years on the sidelines, by the end of this series Cummins is odds on to be only the 10th Australian to ever take 50 Test wickets by the age of 25. Two months short of his 25th birthday, he's already taken 44 wickets at 25.00.

In India he showed that he had lost none of his pace (eight at 30.25), and in Bangladesh (four at 29.00) he proved himself capable of being the team's workhorse by operating as the lone bowler in the second Test.

Cummins appeals for LBW against England's Dawid Malan during the Ashes.
Cummins appeals for LBW against England's Dawid Malan during the Ashes.

In the Ashes he took things to another level, topping the wicket-taking charts (23 at 24.65) in a series where he averaged 41.50 with the bat.

Make no mistake, Cummins is once again a fast bowler with the world at his feet and it is going to be a treat watching both him and Rabada in action next month.


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