- Stuart Broad, fresh off reaching 500 Test scalps, has warned that no further seamers may hit that landmark.
- SA spearhead Kagiso Rabada has made a rampant start to his Test career, but future opportunities could thin out.
- Broad plays a far greater tally of Tests per year than someone like the Proteas’ own great Dale Steyn did.
At roughly the time Kagiso Rabada burst onto the Test scene for South Africa almost five years ago, established Proteas pace legend Dale Steyn quickly pronounced himself a firm fan.
The popular “Phalaborwa Express” was not shy, either, in media opportunities to suggest the then-20-year-old would go on to eventually eclipse him for several major landmarks in the most hallowed format of them all.
Steyn, now retired from the five-day arena but holder of the SA record for total Test wickets (439), has used words like “ridiculous talent” to describe Rabada… who has just as often expressed his own admiration for his former Test colleague as in inspirer to him.
At least statistically, at present, there is plentiful reason for the mutual respect.
Recently enough, Rabada turned 25 in May – he sports 197 wickets after only 43 Tests, which would seem to place him well on course to threaten Steyn’s haul, achieved from 93 appearances.
Many aficionados would probably approve, too, of the coincidence in their Test bowling averages: identical at 22.95.
That may not alter for a few weeks or months yet, given the ongoing, deep disruption to the Proteas’ schedules across the red- and white-ball environments.
There is a chance that Rabada’s 2020 calendar year will be restricted to a miserly two Tests: the completed ones against England at Newlands and St George’s Park respectively in distant January.
But that may not be the only impediment to “KG”, the established main jewel in the Proteas’ current fast bowling crown, threatening prestigious Test milestones.
A few days ago, England’s lanky, lean and durable Stuart Broad reached 500 Test scalps as he played a hugely influential role – after controversially being “rested” for the first Test – in the come-from-behind, 2-1 home series triumph over a willing West Indies.
Publicly not best pleased by his omission at Southampton, he roared back with 16 wickets across the respective wins at spectator-free Old Trafford.
By getting to the 500-mark and in doing so, he became the seventh bowler and just fourth of the pace variety to achieve the feat.
The only superior fast bowlers are his also still-active compatriot James Anderson with 589, Australia’s Glenn McGrath (563) and West Indies’ Courtney Walsh (519). Overall leader is Sri Lankan slow-bowling ace Muttiah Muralitharan with a fairytale 800.
Steyn, meanwhile, lies eighth on the list of wicket-takers with his 439… a figure that would have been greater but for reasonably sudden, late-career major injury drawbacks.
A notable feather in his cap when weighed up against all seven bowlers above him, however, is his strike rate: easily the best of the elite group at 42.3.
All of the others’ are in the 50s or even 60s, with Steyn’s nearest rival on that front being McGrath (51.9).
There’s another fascinating little stat: while Rabada clearly has some way yet to go to challenge the premier group for pure volume of Test wickets, his own strike rate is even more glowing in its current status of 40.6.
But when Broad reached his milestone in Manchester, he made a key, sobering point that may not have escaped the young South African’s attention: he said he wasn’t sure any further fellow-seamers would hit the 500-mark, purely because of the shrinking pattern in Test cricket globally.
“I think there’ll be people who have the talent to get the numbers, but whether a seamer will be able to play the amount of Test cricket to get that feat remains to be seen,” he was quoted on Cricinfo as saying.
Broad added that there was “talk of thinning Tests down” and reminded that Twenty20 leagues were proliferating to such an extent that they would impact the number of future Tests as well.
Is Rabada, then, going to become a prime example of one of those “with the talent” but simply not the future degree of opportunities in Tests to crack the most elite stats brackets?
It is especially disconcerting to hear Broad, 34 – he last played an ODI in 2016, at least partly indicating his deeper passion for the longer format – speak quite gloomily about Test cricket’s future, as his country remains one of the most active at that level.
Once they have played an imminent, further three-Test series against the touring Pakistanis, England will have completed six in some six weeks since their emergence from Covid-19 lockdown, the sort of roster to make Rabada and many other dormant superstars worldwide envious.
While injury-related absences have to be taken into account, at least one gauge of how much busier England are in Test activity comes in studying the average number of appearances per calendar year of Broad and Steyn, whose careers overlapped to a strong degree.
Broad has been a Test player for around 14 years and played 140: an easy average to work out of around 10 a year.
Steyn, however, had a Test career spanning some 16 years, so his 93 Tests means he averaged about 5.8 per year – considerably lower than his English counterpart.
The Proteas are already seeing their Test series increasingly cut in duration: they are lucky these days to play ones of four-Test duration, let alone five (a hallmark last experienced by them in 2004/05).
England’s regular Ashes rivalry with Australia, for example, remains on a five-Tests basis each time.
At the end of the day, the further expansion of Kagiso Rabada’s booming Test legacy may well depend on Cricket South Africa’s parallel levels of appetite for and devotion to the format.
There’ll be mixed feelings on that…
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing