The day the guard changed under Galle Fort's ramparts
The guard has been changed tens of thousands of times under the ramparts of Galle Fort since it was built 430 years ago‚ but perhaps never like it was on Thursday.
If‚ indeed‚ that’s what happened after lunch on the opening day of the Test series between Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Sri Lanka had faced 34 overs‚ the last of them bowled by Dale Steyn — who then held up a hand towards the dressingroom and twirled his fingers horizontally: substitute required.
He tapped a hamstring as he made his way towards the boundary‚ and onto the field came Theunis de Bruyn.
During the morning session‚ after reaching for his shoulder‚ Steyn had been replaced by Heinrich Klaasen.
Tabraiz Shamsi trundled towards the fort for the next six balls before Kagiso Rabada took over from Steyn — and found Angelo Mathews’ edge with his first delivery‚ a sniping away swinger that nestled untroubled in Quinton de Kock’s gloves.
Lesser bowlers rudely awakened from their snooze between spells might have answered the call with a loosener. Rabada‚ ever-ready‚ ever-sharp‚ ever-hungry‚ is no-one’s idea of a lesser bowler.
Two balls after removing Silva he speared the most effective kind of bouncer — aimed not at the head but at chest height — at Roshen Silva‚ whose inadequate fend flew off the shoulder of his bat to short leg‚ where Aiden Markram tumbled to his right to hold a fine catch.
Along with offering a lesson in how to deliver when your team is in a tight spot‚ Rabada might have hastened the moment Faf du Plessis was talking about on Wednesday: “Dale has been the spearhead‚ but I think ‘KG’ will take over that mantle. He’s got the skill‚ he’s got the pace and he’s got the control to do well in all conditions around the world.”
Rabada had found the first chink in the Lankans’ armour — the left-handed Danushka Gunathilaka edged a ball angled across him to De Kock — after Sri Lanka’s openers had successfully negotiated most of the initial hour.
Throughout his 14 overs‚ in which he earned 4/50‚ Rabada bowled with the enthusiasm and commitment to back up Du Plessis’ words‚ and more.
Rabada also took the catch‚ at mid-on‚ that left Steyn needing just two more scalps to become South Africa’s most prolific wicket-taker.
Steyn’s greatness hasn’t been in doubt for a long time. But neither is Rabada’s shot at greatness.
On Thursday’s evidence Steyn has returned from a couple of broken shoulders and a heel injury as a fading force.
But he has a good few more than two wickets left in his 35-year-old body‚ which has taken him to heights people of his physical stature are not supposed to reach.
Rabada is also coming back from living with pain‚ caused in his case by a spinal stress problem.
The key difference between his body‚ which is indeed in the mould of the classic fast bowler‚ is his is a dozen years younger.
“Coming into this Test match I wasn’t feeling confident — not feeling bad but not feeling good‚” he said in a television interview to Shaun Pollock‚ whose record Steyn is set to break.
It’s not difficult to imagine‚ years from now Rabada giving a similar interview‚ perchance to Steyn‚ with a fully loaded young gun looking on in awe and many more watching at home.
It’s a thought neither bad nor good‚ but it should give us confidence about the state of fast bowling in South Africa.
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