Australian star opener David Warner has labelled Anrich Nortje’s fiery post-lunch spell as the fastest he’s ever faced in his career — and the Proteas paceman also reckons it was close to his best.
Despite the sweltering Melbourne conditions on Tuesday, Nortje and Warner were central to the most captivating passage of play on day two of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and South Africa, with the Proteas quick putting together one of the fastest spells of pace bowling witnessed on Australian soil in years.
Warner survived the day-two Nortje rampage, but lasted just one ball on Wednesday. Resuming his amazing innings, Warner was bowled by a full Nortje delivery for 200 — one ball after the South African quick dismissed Travis Head for 51.
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Nortje repeatedly peppered Warner with deliveries exceeding 150km/hr. A well-directed yorker was dug out by the left-hander before he ducked under a searing bouncer that flew over the wicketkeeper’s head for four byes.
In Nortje’s 10th over of the innings, every delivery registered above 150km/hr on the speed gun, with two balls touching 155km/h.
Freebies were few and far between – nothing veered down the leg side and Nortje rarely offer Warner any width outside off stump.
“I was down in the stands watching live and Nortje looked unbelievably quick,” former England bowler Isa Guha said on Fox Cricket.
“Blink and you missed it.”
Guha later told foxsports.com.au: “It was a tantalising spell to watch. He was bowling gas.”
Speaking to Fox Cricket before play on Wednesday, Warner said it was “the fastest spell that I’ve faced to date in my career”.
“To do that in 37-degree heat, to come back and bowl … I think I faced 18 deliveries straight from him,” Warner told Fox Cricket. “It’s not that I didn’t know what to do, but it was how was I going to pull it, how was I going to duck it and how was I going to eradicate it – you couldn’t.
“The speed was sheer up there. It was the fastest I’ve ever faced.
“To try and negate that and try and pull it into areas that I could, it was almost impossible. When he ‘lidded’ me, I was like ‘that’s obviously very fast’. Credit to him, he kept coming back in this heat.”
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Warner, who was approaching the nervous nineties, was clearly troubled by the South African’s added speed. In response, he shortened his trademark pick-up meaning there was less power behind his shots.
But the strategy worked, with Warner surviving the onslaught and reaching his 25th Test century after Nortje was taken out of the attack.
“Warner had a clear method and plan to play him,” Guha said.
“He got a knock on the finger that had to be looked at, but that didn’t deter his determination to score the big one and make it such a magical moment for himself and write his own scripts.”
Nortje said his main goal on the second day of the Test was to generate momentum through the crease, rather than just “jumping up”.
Asked if it was one of the best spells he’s ever delivered, Nortje told reporters on Tuesday night: “Yeah, it was probably up there.
“In general, it felt really good. It‘s been something that I’ve been working on a little bit here and there with the jump. But I think all in all, probably one of the better ones, yes, if not the best.”
Nortje said it “started clicking” for him early on day two.
“You see some of the paces without really trying too much and then you feel like you can push a little bit more and you feel you‘ve got a little bit of momentum. So once you get that momentum you just sort of ride it, you don’t try and fight it, you don’t force anything else.
“I was in a good rhythm … Unfortunately it didn‘t work out, but I still feel like we applied ourselves pretty well.”
Warner added: “The sheer determination that bloke has – I’ve faced him in the nets at the IPL and every session he bowled 145-plus. He gives 100 per cent every time he trains as well.”
Nortje returned in the evening session, removing Steve Smith for 85 with a short delivery that was guided directly towards the gully fielder.
It was just reward for South Africa’s best bowler of the day.
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