Johannesburg - Dean Elgar called it “a rocket,” on TV and then toned it down to “tough love,” when he spoke in a press conference later, but whatever it was that he said to Kagiso Rabada before the third morning of the Wanderers Test, it worked bloody well.
Rabada changed the course of the second Test that morning. In 15 balls after the drinks break he claimed three wickets, breaking the century stand between Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane and then shaking up Rishabh Pant with a bouncer before shipping him out with the next delivery.
Until then however, Rabada, one of the few match-winners in the South African team, had been drifting along in the game - one could even argue the series.
“I went to KG and said ‘you’re an immensely respected cricketer within our group and at the moment I don’t think you’re conducting yourself well when it comes to performance,’” Elgar explained.
“It was a good chat. I can have those chats with KG and he responds extremely well. He takes it away and lets it process, thinks about it overnight and then comes back the next day with a scenario for me. He came to me and said, ‘what we spoke of yesterday you’ve hit the nail on the head.’”
In the wake of the shock retirement from Test cricket of Quinton de Kock, South Africa went into the second Test against a confident India, aware that the senior players, like Rabada, Elgar and Temba Bavuma, needed to make more impactful contributions. Rabada picked up seven wickets in the first Test, but those spells weren’t the kind to rip the initiative from the opposition. Wednesday morning’s was, and was much needed by a Proteas team that needed a boost just as it appeared the match and the series was going away from them.
“I think he undersells his value in the group,” Elgar said of the Proteas spearhead. “He can be a little too relaxed. He needs to understand that his performance on the field and performance in the changeroom is huge. I wouldn’t say it was a rocket, it was maybe a tough love conversation that we had.”
Looking at Rabada’s understated celebration of that miraculous seven wicket win, which he’d helped engineer with Elgar providing the finishing touches, it was apparent that he wanted more. The third Test will provide that opportunity. The conversation with the captain has lit a fire in him, and will make the third Test that much more compelling.
“When KG’s got his tail up there is no better bowler than him in the world. I’ve experienced quite a few guys in my period being part of the team. I know what KG is capable of. He is world class,” Elgar remarked.