Third Test: Tasty homecoming for Nortje

Anrich Nortje (Gallo Images)
Anrich Nortje (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The strides being taken by tearaway strike bowler Anrich Nortje provide some fuel for hope that South Africa will get their noses back in front in the series again when they tackle England in the third Test at St George's Park from Thursday next week.

Apart from the development of fellow Test rookies like Pieter Malan and Rassie van der Dussen in the defeat to the tourists in the New Year Test at Newlands, Nortje's consistent penetration, pace levels and hostility were key features of another hard-fought tussle.

Clearly the Proteas will need to find extra gears against a confident English side who will feel they have regrouped significantly after being caught in a relatively disorganised state at Centurion in game one due to a bout of debilitating illness in the camp.

But Nortje is one very obvious candidate to provide that additional SA spark, especially aided by the fact that the third game comes after a fair gap between Tests and he will be able to recharge his body after his impressive, athleticism-laden exertions in Cape Town.

It will also be a poignant match for the lean 26-year-old as he hails from just up the proverbial road from Port Elizabeth, in Uitenhage, and St George's Park is a familiar franchise stomping ground with the Warriors.

This will be the right-arm thunderbolt's fourth Test in total, as he experienced a harsh baptism - on a difficult tour for most around him - to the format in Pune and Ranchi on the unproductive tour of India in early season.

But he has already confirmed in the last couple of weeks what an asset he should be to the national cause on South African surfaces, and he should only get progressively wiser over the next few years to the demands of bowling in widely varying conditions abroad.

Nortje lies second in the wicket-taking column for both sides in the series so far, with 10 scalps at an average of 22.00, behind only compatriot Kagiso Rabada (12, at a slightly more bloated average of 25.66).

England's most successful customer in wickets grabbed is veteran James Anderson with nine at 19.88 after a luminary showing at Newlands, although he is now ruled out of the remainder of summer hostilities through injury.

Showing a pleasing ability to be able to "rough up" at times key English stroke-players like captain Joe Root - who he dismissed with a short-pitched snorter in the first innings at Newlands - Nortje earned pretty similar figures at Newlands (2/56 and 3/61) as he did at SuperSport Park (2/47 and 3/56).

Now his first Eastern Cape-staged Test match presents a chance to emulate or even better those showings in extremely familiar surroundings ... and perhaps also with a better balance this time between home and visiting supporters; quite a few of the "Barmy Army" are likely to have targeted the popular Cape Town Test in particular.

While St George's Park can be something of a backbreaker for quicker bowlers, it is also not averse to assisting them, especially as Tests or first-class fixtures advance and the strip becomes more "up and down" and responsive to reverse swing.

Nortje, who has also made a name for himself over the course of two seasons for the Cape Town Blitz in the Mzansi Super League, will get enthusiastic support from the people of the Friendly City if they pitch up in agreeable numbers.

He last took part in a 4-Day Franchise Series match at the venue for the Warriors last season, when they played out a stalemate against the Knights.

But he did provide plenty of evidence of the sort of menace the Proteas’ brains trust will be expecting of him in the third Test, as he bagged six for 66 in the Knights' first innings ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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