The arrival of Anrich Nortje as the Proteas’ new bowling enforcer is a massive boon for Mark Boucher’s team, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As the archetypal South African ‘fighting’ cricketer, Boucher must love what he’s seen so far from Nortje.
The big quick endured a nightmare start to his Test career in unfavourable conditions in India last October, claiming just one wicket in two Tests, while conceding nearly 200 runs.
Yet, in the first look at the 26-year-old on the Test stage in local conditions, he has made a massive impression. Indeed, as the Proteas cruised to victory in the first clash against England in Centurion, it was Nortje who seriously ‘brought the heat’.
In the first innings, the paceman bagged two wickets, which included the important scalps of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, but it was his ability to maintain both control and high pace that was even more impressive.
It was a similar story in the second dig, when he delivered even more decisively to remove Rory Burns for 84, before later also sending Joe Root back to the changeroom just as the England captain approached a half century.
Even so, it was his subsequent dismissal of Jofra Archer that should have had many SA fans smiling just as much. Earlier in the Test, Nortje had been on the receiving end of two successive beamers from the England speedster.
This time around, though, Nortje nicked Archer off and then gave him a send-off with a searing stare that spoke volumes for his increased confidence.
As the Proteas look to start a new chapter under the guidance of Boucher, there is no doubt that a player such as Nortje is exactly what they are looking for.
His ‘enforcer’ role was one that recently looked set to be filled by Duanne Olivier until he defected to the Kolpak route, but suddenly Nortje has announced his arrival.
Big, strong, fast, he is also far from just a one-dimensional bowler, boasting the willingness to pitch the ball up and target the stumps when necessary.
In the afternoon session on the opening day of the second Test at Newlands, this aggression and guile was delightfully demonstrated by Nortje. England were moseying along at the time, with Root and Joe Denly looking well set.
The Proteas needed something, and up stepped Nortje. Bringing pace, aggression and control to proceedings, he first pinned Denly with a ferocious bouncer that ricocheted down to fine leg off the helmet.
Nortje then turned his attention to Root, pushing him onto the back foot, before eventually drawing an outside edge with a fuller deliver that demonstrated his control and cricket wits.
The catch went down, but just a couple balls later, Nortje had his man. This time it was a ripper of a bouncer that did the job as Root ducked into a rising delivery, with the ball ballooning off his gloves and into the gleeful hands of Quinton de Kock.
Boucher, and certainly new bowling coach Charl Langeveldt, must be smiling.
Vernon Philander is on his way out not long after the departure of Dale Steyn, and the Proteas need a new generation of bowlers to take hold of the baton successfully alongside Kagiso Rabada.
Nortje may not be a like-for-like Philander replacement, but he looks a sort of natural fit to fill the shoes previously worn by an ‘enforcer’ like Morne Morkel, or even Andre Nel if we go further back.
Of course, Lungi Ngidi will soon be back in the picture too.
These are all good signs for the Proteas, but I’d venture that it’s the emergence of Nortje that remains the biggest positive at the start of this Test series.