SRI LANKA TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2019
Nortje will also play in the Indian Premier League for the first time after being picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders (Credit – Mzansi Super League) © Cricket South Africa
The opening match of the inaugural Mzansi Super League was purported to be an ‘AB Special’. The Cape Town Blitz were hosting the Tshwane Spartans and everyone had tuned in just to see the Superman in action. Instead, a 25-year old tearaway from the opposition ranks steamed in from one end in the run-chase and beat Gihahn Cloete’s bat four times in succession with extra pace and bounce to make the world sit up and take note. Anrich Nortje, that prized bowler, ended with match figures of 1 for 21, definitely not the most impressive on paper, but good enough to earn a mention from de Villiers in the post-match presentation.
Nortje’s searing pace and hit-the-deck length became the talk of the town in no time and wickets soon started coming his way. In the next match against Durban Heat, Nortje, who consistently topped the 150kmph mark, picked up four top-order wickets, including beating Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma for pace. However, with eight wickets in three matches, his tournament came to an abrupt end as an ankle injury struck. Yet, he had done enough to catch the attention of all and sundry with the national convener of selectors, Linda Zondi, publicly declaring that South Africa “would like to have a look” at Nortje before the World Cup.
The call-up to the national team for the ODI series against Sri Lanka came after the Warriors seamer proved his match fitness in the Momentum One Day Cup recently, but he is quick to acknowledge the role that the MSL played. “The MSL is when everyone started noticing me outside South Africa and even in some parts of SA. Unfortunately our 4-day cricket doesn’t get broadcasted. I felt good rhythm going into the MSL and the momentum just continued for me. It definitely helped to get my name out there for those who hadn’t seen me before,” Nortje says in an exclusive chat with Cricbuzz.
He is also grateful for the role that the cameo in the home league played in helping him get a Rs 20 lakh deal with Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. The difference a T20 tournament of their own would bring was often debated by Cricket South Africa and Nortje is possibly the first of many harvests. The deciding factor for Nortje, though, was his pace but he had trained himself to make best use of the same and the results showed immediately. “The change came after I just focused on getting into a stronger position at the crease,” the Warriors seamer explains. “I worked a few sessions with [provincial coach] Piet Botha and he gave me some drills to do during the winter and it worked for me.”
But the latest entrant to South Africa’s pace battery realises that pace alone cannot sustain a career in international cricket, particularly with modern day limited-overs cricket demanding bowlers to contain the run rate as well. That said, having been drafted into the Proteas squad mid-way through the Momentum One Day Cup works to his advantage. “Pace is definitely something that you can’t teach anyone. So if you have it you must use it to your advantage but one also has to be smart about it. I’ve been working towards improving some of my skills with targeted sessions to cover all bases as a bowler. Domestically I’m also playing one-day cricket for the Warriors, so I wouldn’t have to change anything from what I’ve been doing and training, which is great,” Nortje says.
While he isn’t sure of his role in the Proteas limited-overs setup yet, Nortje is excited about teaming up with Dale Steyn again post the MSL, where they played together for Cape Town Blitz. “I’m looking forward to working with him again and hopefully this time I can do a bit more training with him and the rest of the bowlers. I didn’t really get time to work with Steyn as I was managed with my bowling loads during the MSL,” a hopeful Nortje says, adding that he hopes the “nerves” will disappear once he joins the dressing room.
One interesting topic for discussion between Nortje and Steyn would involve injury management. The veteran seamer has made a resounding comeback into cricket after a lengthy injury break and is now bowling at peak form. Nortje, who suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the business end of the MSL, will have to play continuous cricket heading into the IPL with the Momentum games preceding the Sri Lankan ODIs.
If he plays a lot of the IPL matches too, South Africa would surely be concerned about his capacity given that he is in the reckoning for the World Cup now. Nortje, though, feels that game time is as crucial as workload management.
“My ankle has been very good post surgery. I’ve had a few sessions where I’ve let a few go, so I definitely think I’m bowling at the same pace. I think that some game time towards the end of the South African season will be a great thing for me and the rest of the Proteas bowlers. It will give those selected good momentum going into the World Cup,” he says. “Management will be key for some as they can’t get bowled into the ground but I do believe that game time is key.”
Does that mean he is dreaming of a World Cup place already?
“At this stage I’m just taking it game by game. I’m really excited to make my debut and I just want to make the best out of the opportunity that I’ve been given. From there on, it is out of my control with regards to World Cup selection. I’m just focused on the work that lies ahead for now. I definitely think that we can take the Sri Lankans in the ODI series.”
That’s one way to stay grounded and focus positively on the job at hand. But given Duanne Olivier’s departure and Lungi Ngidi’s own injury concerns of late, a fit and firing Nortje might be invaluable for the Proteas, and not just in the limited-overs outfit.