South Africa's newest bowling star discusses a whirlwind year and the importance of his growing friendship with Kagiso Rabada.
In a massively disrupted year, Anrich Nortje has emerged as one of cricket’s newest stars.
After making his debut for South Africa in 2019, the 27-year-old announced his arrival to the rest of the world with a stunning IPL campaign in which he took 22 wickets for the Delhi Capitals.
Nortje is now a key player for the Proteas, with his pace, control and range of variations making him a threat in all formats.
“I won’t say I was expecting things to happen this quickly,” he says. “But also, in the back of my mind, I was always trying to push and get to another level.
“Obviously, it’s a very exciting time for me. I’m really happy to be in the spot that I’m in at this stage, but I’m just trying to take it step-by-step.”
Although Nortje admits that his career has moved quickly over the last year, his rise to the top has been far from smooth.
Ankle surgery cut short a promising Mzansi Super League campaign in 2018, before a shoulder injury denied him a debut IPL campaign in 2019.
Nortje recovered in time to be named in the Proteas squad for the World Cup that summer, but a hand injury sustained in the nets ruled him out of the tournament at the last minute.
“I’ve been unfortunate with injuries over the years,” he says. “But I’ve always tried to do as much as possible from a physical point of view, trying to get as strong as possible.
“I’ve played a lot of four-day cricket and have bowled a lot of overs in my life. I’ve always had to fight for my place, that’s just how it’s been my whole career.
“All that hard work is paying off now, but I’m focused on controlling what I can, and doing my best every time I go out there.
“I don’t want to be thinking too far ahead and I don’t want to be thinking too much about what happened in the past.”
Nortje’s emergence has come at the right time for South Africa, who are at the beginning of a rebuild under new captain Quinton de Kock.
Alongside Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, Nortje has formed a deadly pace trio that could dominate matches for South Africa for years to come.
Ahead of a busy summer schedule that will see the Proteas face Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan, all three are fresh and raring to go after an extended break and successful IPL campaigns.
“It’s been nice for guys like Kagiso to have a break – he hasn’t had one in five or six years. It’s really exciting to have a fresh bowling unit – mentally and physically,” says Nortje.
“All three of us being able to play in the IPL was brilliant. Although Lungi didn’t play as much as he might have wanted to, I think we all learned a lot from that experience.
“Taking that momentum into these internationals is going to be very important. The boys are looking really strong, it’s now about getting those skills executed again.”
Nortje’s relationship with Rabada is blossoming particularly fast, with the duo starring for both the Proteas and the Delhi Capitals this year.
Together they claimed 52 victims in the IPL, with Rabada winning the Purple Cap for most wickets thanks to his 30 scalps.
“It’s been great to spend that time with Kagiso,” says Nortje. “We’ve spoken a lot and there’s obviously been a lot of bowling with each other at the IPL.
“I think it’s something we can grow, that relationship. He’s obviously played a lot more than me, he’s got a lot more experience, so stepping into his mind at times has been useful.
“Even in training sessions we bounce ideas off one another, and it’s really nice to be able to do that. Now it’s about taking that into these upcoming matches.”
Those within the South Africa set-up will hope that Nortje and Rabada’s budding relationship begins to translate into quality performances on the international stage.
The Port Elizabeth native certainly believes that will be the case.
“Both of us are learning a lot from one another – particularly on the mental side of things,” he says. “We have completely different actions, and go about things differently in terms of our bowling styles, but there is always something we can help each other with.
“We’ll have to wait and see, but from a personal point of view I’m sure it will help us perform well for South Africa. Both of us keep things very, very simple. We don’t overthink things.
“I think over time that will start to show, but hopefully it starts right away.”
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