As recently as March, the thought of Anrich Nortje winning a place in South Africa’s World Cup squad would have been a mildly amusing diversion from reality. He had made a decent start to the Mzansi Super League in November, taking eight wickets in three games, before an ankle injury laid him low — taking him out of the 2019 Indian Premier League in the process.
But why would a team like South Africa, who invariably have more fast bowlers to choose from than they could ever use, need him? It seems the selectors wanted a serious answer to that question, so they picked him for the ODI series against Sri Lanka.
On his debut, at the Wanderers on 3 March, he followed taking his maiden wicket with a maiden over — the 46th of the innings. He took seven more scalps in the other three games he played in the series, and went for more than a run a ball only once in the four matches.
Still, that didn’t seem enough for Nortje to crack the World Cup nod with selection panel who had shown a penchant for erring on the side of conservatism. Perhaps coach Ottis Gibson’s more attacking philosophy played a role in him being picked for the global showpiece.
Unusually for a modern cricketer, Nortje holds a B Com degree. Rather more usually, particularly for those who shoot for the stars at 150 kilometres an hour, as he does, he has had more than his fair of injuries. Indeed, he was out with a shoulder problem when the World Cup squad was announced.
Those who have known Nortje since his school days speak of a player equal parts modesty and confidence. He wouldn’t have talked up his chances of being given his chance to show what he can do on the biggest white-ball stage of all, but he would have believed he could make a success of it.
Nortje goes to the 2019 World Cup, not as a member of the first-choice XI, but there will be plenty of confidence in him to make the best of whatever opportunities come his way.