CENTURION, South Africa (AP) For any fast bowler, 13 wickets in a test is a big deal. That 20-year-old Kagiso Rabada did it in only his sixth test for South Africa, and is black, is even more impressive.
In post-apartheid cricket in South Africa, race is sometimes important even if it shouldn't be. Since apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, the nation has had one black African cricketer who has been successful over a long spell of time: fast bowler Makhaya Ntini. It now has two hugely promising young black players on the same team.
Rabada's 13-144 in the fourth test against England was the second-best bowling ever for his country - in any era - and only behind, notably, Ntini. Temba Bavuma, a middle-order batsman who is also black, made 78 following a century in the second test in Cape Town.
''With the racial history we've had in the past and to see two guys like that step up and just show what it's all about, it's fantastic for me to be a part of,'' South Africa captain AB de Villiers said.
The biggest and most emotive debate currently in South African sports is whether affirmative-action rules should be applied to give black players extra advantages when they were denied any during the apartheid era.
The quotas are there for now. South Africa's domestic cricket has rules that demand teams pick black players. But what Rabada and Bavuma did in this series against England was to convincingly remove any doubts over why they were selected for the biggest stage.
''I see it as we've brought through two really good cricketers. Whether they're black, white or pink is not really an issue for me,'' South Africa coach Russell Domingo said.
In Cape Town, Bavuma was bombarded with questions over how it felt to be the first black player to make a test century for South Africa. He suggested it was extra pressure to be a black role model, and he'd rather be considered a test player rather than a black test player.
By the time Rabada took his 13 in Centurion in the series' final test to become the youngest South African to take 10 or more wickets in a test match, no one mentioned that he was an inspiration to young black hopefuls. Instead, he was just a fine cricketer, period.
''Every time I asked him to come out and perform for us, he did,'' De Villiers said of Rabada. ''He showed the maturity of a guy who's played 100 test matches, and also the pace of a guy who's only played one or two.''