South Africans don’t need an excuse to braai. However, there seemed to be one for right-arm quick Anrich Nortje on Tuesday when on a perfectly good afternoon, he was informed by a friend of his that he was snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL Auction.
“I was actually buying some food for the braai when one of my mates phoned me and told me I got picked up by KKR. I was following it a bit before the break and then went to the supermarket to get the food and got a call. I was obviously very happy and had to keep my cool at that time!”
Anrich Nortje On His Maiden IPL Gig With KKR
So what prompted the KKR scouts to bring a relatively unknown 25-year old quick into the side?
For starters, Nortje got going in the Mzansi Super League (MSL) , playing for his franchise Cape Town Blitz, at once taking eight wickets in three matches – including the likes of Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma , Morne Van Wyk and Reeza Hendricks – at an average of just above 10. He attacks the stumps more often with pace and swing while clocking speeds of 150 kph. With a smooth action, he thunders short balls at will and mixes up his lengths to great accuracy. What’s more? He can bowl at any stage of the game- be it the powerplay, middle overs or at the death.
He also shared the new ball with his idol and childhood hero, Dale Steyn but there is an air of humility as he recalls the experience.
“Yes I enjoyed playing with Dale in the two games I was with him. We basically just stuck to what each of us do best. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to work with him or some of the other experienced guys due to my ankle injury. We just stuck to our basics and that worked on the wickets we played on so no real changes were required. “
Unfortunately, his MSL stint was cut short after he picked up an ankle injury which resulted in him having a surgery. He associated bone oedema and needed surgery to remove the fragments arthroscopically.
“Unfortunately, I had to pull out. I wanted to get it over and done with rather than managing it throughout the MSL and maybe lacking on performances then. I’m looking at February to be back on the field, but we will see how the body will react in mid-January when I start putting impact on it again. So, we’ll know then if I can start a bit earlier or maybe later in February. “
While just three matches in the MSL seem too less to gauge his potential, it is the countless hours working and training behind-the-scenes with his domestic side Warriors that has helped him win the much-coveted IPL ticket.
“The MSL was great. I really enjoyed it and it gave many of us young cricketers a stage to perform on. It was what helped me to get noticed for the IPL so I think it is a tournament that will continue to grow over the next few years,” Nortje said.
— Anrich Nortje (@AnrichNortje02) November 27, 2018
With uncertainty over the venue in this year’s edition due to the General Elections in India, there’s a possibility of UAE or South Africa hosting at least half of the tournament. When the action shifts back to India, it would be intriguing to see how Nortje adapts to spin-conducive and flatter pitches in addition to the smaller boundaries of the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru or even the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. All of which are known to favour the batsmen heavily. So what variations is he looking to bowl in order to challenge the batsmen consistently?
“It will depend on the conditions, situation and what is required from me. In certain situations, you might be required to hit back of a length consistently, and other times change it up as much as possible, so it is difficult to say now. “
Having toured India in July last year as a part of the South Africa A red-ball squad, he would have at least some measure of the conditions on offer.
” When we toured India in July, we had good wickets to play on, it was similar to South African wickets. I was a part of the four-day squad and not for the one-dayers, so the plans and strategies were very different. I’m looking forward to seeing how the conditions are and what is expected of me so I’ll adapt wherever needed from my normal game. ”
While playing the IPL adds a feather to his cap, it has a few added benefits and very few uncapped South Africans have experienced it like the left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi did, who was fast-tracked into the South African side after rubbing shoulders with T20 greats in the star-studded league. But Nortje is not looking too far ahead and is focused on recovering from his injury so that he is back playing the sport before he heads to India.
Surely the IPL will be an unforgiving and a competitive challenge made even more competitive by the virtue of vying for a spot in the XI that has Andre Russell, Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine cementing their spots. Should KKR opt for an overseas fast bowler, it will come down to Carlos Braithwaite, England’s left-arm seamer Harry Gurney, New Zealand’s speedster Lockie Ferguson and Nortje, himself.
However, the silver lining would be the opportunity to pick the brains of coaches Simon Katich, Jacques Kallis and Heath Streak while learning how to adapt to different conditions.
“ Playing under these coaches will be an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to be learning each day and just taking in as much as possible. Learning is key in t20 cricket and if I can do that quickly, it will only help my game going forward. I’m really excited and know it will benefit my cricket a hell of a lot.”
While Nortje waits for an exciting journey ahead, change, in every form, is absolutely non-negotiable at this point in his life.