CWC: Proteas look like taking 'mystery man'

2019-03-11 18:08
Anrich Nortje
Anrich Nortje (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - South Africa may very well have settled, quite suddenly to some, on their World Cup 2019 squad.

That much will have struck the minds of observers in the wake of Monday's revelation of a not irrelevantly 15-strong (the CWC requirement) party for the last two of the five one-day internationals against already-beaten Sri Lanka.

Or put it this way, perhaps: if rookie paceman Anrich Nortje, who has intriguingly kept his berth in the party as this advanced stage of preparations for the bigger-picture needs, produces another promising performance or two at St George's Park on Wednesday and/or Newlands on Saturday, it is hard to see the selectors shifting any more furniture around for the English-staged major event in late May.

That would simultaneously mean that top-order batsman Reeza Hendricks, who has gone statistically backwards just when he needed to go a tad the other way, and young all-rounder Wiaan Mulder - now cold-shouldered for the remainder of this series - are unlikely to travel to the UK.

Similarly, the dice looks loaded against Chris Morris - the mercurial, but fickle, versatile customer who still has a well-subscribed fan club - returning from the relative ODI wilderness for the World Cup.

All of the trio mentioned might have to rely at this point on injuries causing some unsettlement to World Cup plans, unless there is a surprise element of hoodwinking going on from Linda Zondi's panel with their pick for the Port Elizabeth and Cape Town dates ... and why would they be doing that at a time when the Proteas have no further 50-overs obligations until CWC 2019?

The restoration of Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram and JP Duminy to the group (hiked to 15 after being only 14-staffed for the first three ODIs) suddenly gives the SA squad an infinitely more balanced and rounded look, and the wise men would face few brickbats, frankly, if this really is their shadow World Cup arsenal.

Should that be the case, Nortje will be an exciting wildcard in England in many respects: perhaps the one member of the party that the rest of the world will know relatively little about.

While no baby face at 25, the extremely brisk paceman from the Eastern Cape has played in two ODIs in the series so far, at both Highveld venues of the Wanderers and SuperSport Park, and looked up to the task even given the sometimes glaring limitations of Sri Lanka's current ODI side.

He returned 7-0-33-1 on debut in the Bullring and then 7-0-25-2 at Centurion.

Apart from a much-talked-about, tearaway start to the Mzansi Super League for Cape Town Blitz several months ago - 10 wickets in three matches before an inconvenient injury - Nortje has flown largely beneath the radar since then.

Of the four out-and-out pacemen in the current group (also including Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi) he will be the one least faced by the majority of leading batsmen at the World Cup assuming that he gets his passage.

The one down side is that he sports little or no experience of English conditions, but head coach Ottis Gibson is seriously partial to raw pace and will know anyway that Nortje is primarily part of the back-up ranks in the squad when it comes to pecking order: the other three, plus leg-spinner Imran Tahir, are the likeliest starting strike bowlers when all are suitably fit and fresh.

Should he crack the World Cup nod, the most ODI caps Nortje can add to his current two are another pair, making him easily the least street-smart at this level of the entire squad.

When they went to the last World Cup in 2015 (and were beaten semi-finalists), the least seasoned ODI player in the Proteas' ranks was Kyle Abbott with 11 appearances, although he was already 27 then and much more well-travelled than Nortje - albeit IPL-bound soon with the Kolkata Knight Riders - presently is.

South Africa actually took a zero-capper to the previous World Cup, on the Subcontinent in 2011: Imran Tahir.

The Pakistani-born journeyman had only a few weeks earlier been finally cleared to play for the country, and the Proteas opted not to play him in the last home series before the tournament, against India, to keep him suitably shielded from CWC opponents.

But he, like Abbott, was already pretty well known on the broad global treadmill, as he was 31 at the time and with many, many stamps in his work-related passport.

Nortje? Not nearly so many.

And that's precisely what could make him an attractive SA feature in England ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2019  |  anrich nortje  |  cricket


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