“I don’t think I’ve arrived yet, there’s still lots of work to be done,” he said after his return of seven for 112 earned South Africa a significant first innings lead on the third day of the fourth and final Test at SuperSport Park.
England were bowled out for 342 in reply to South Africa’s 475.
South Africa were 42 for one in their second innings at the close, an overall lead of 175.
Rabada, 20, said he had not bowled as well as he did in the third Test in Johannesburg where he took five for 78.
He took his first two wickets on the second evening but conceded 55 runs in 12 overs. It all changed when he had Joe Root caught behind for 76, the first of three wickets he took in 12 balls immediately before lunch.
“Once I got Joe Root out it was a big relief because the day before I was all over the place,” he said.
“Alastair Cook kept cutting and pulling me because I was bowling too short.”
He said the credit belonged to the bowling unit as a whole.
“Both Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott bowled magnificently well. If they had taken seven wickets they would have deserved it more than me.
“I didn’t think I bowled that well. I bowled well at the Wanderers, at Centurion I bowled okay in spells. But I’ll take the seven wickets.”
Rabada appears to have all the attributes to become South Africa’s first genuine black African cricket star since fellow fast bowler Makhaya Ntini.
But unlike Ntini, who was plucked from a rural village, Rabada is from a middle class family.
– Doctor’s son –
His father is a doctor and he went to a leading private school in upmarket Sandton.
Rabada was a star of South Africa’s triumph in the Under-19 World Cup in 2014 and was blooded at Twenty20 international level as a 19-year-old in the 2014/15 season.
He made a sensational one-day international debut against Bangladesh in Mirpur last July, taking six for 16, including a hat-trick — the best figures for South Africa in the format.
He played his first three Tests in India in unhelpful conditions earlier in the season, largely because of injuries to Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn.
“People kept telling me that Test cricket is the real deal,” said Rabada.
“I think I’ve learnt that. There’s very little margin for error. You’ve got good players who have been playing for a long time, they latch on to anything that’s not in a good area.
“You have to bowl well for periods of time, not (just) two overs. I’ve learnt a lot.”
Rabada bowled 26 overs in the first innings and might have a heavier workload in the second because Abbott bowled only one over with the second new ball on Sunday before crying off with a tight left hamstring.
Rabada said South Africa were in a strong position to earn a consolation win to reduce England’s series winning margin to 2-1.
“We’ve got a strong lead, the wicket is deteriorating, it’s not going to be easy batting in the last innings.”
Batting conditions were tricky under a heavily overcast sky on a pitch with occasional variable bounce on Sunday.
England had advanced to 208 for three when Rabada had Root caught behind by Quinton de Kock for 76, pushing at a ball which left him.
James Taylor swung at a bouncer and edged the ball to De Kock and Jonny Bairstow gloved a ball which lifted and seamed back at him.
He followed up by ending an aggressive innings of 33 by Ben Stokes, who was caught at first slip by Hashim Amla off the second delivery with the second new ball and claimed his seventh when Stuart Broad was caught on the midwicket boundary.
Alastair Cook and Root both made 76 for England while Moeen Ali was last man out for 61.
Ali admitted that England were in a difficult position.
“We have to be positive to try and get something out of this game. There is a bit of up and down movement and a bit of spin. There are a lot of cracks,” said Ali.
“But we’ve got bowlers in the side who can win us games, like we saw at the Wanderers.”