de Lange delivers in the biggest match of his career
After dismissing both Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson for ducks off consecutive deliveries, 21-year-old Marchant de Lange faced the biggest moment of his 14-match first-class career. A hat-trick against Australia in a tour match would not have elevated him to immediate Test-player status, but it would have made a strong statement about his credentials. Peter Siddle took guard, de Lange walked to his mark, thought about what he wanted to do and ran in.
Unexpectedly, he banged in a wayward bouncer that was called wide.
There was a giggle, on the field and later, off it, when de Lange was asked what he was thinking. "I was in two minds," he said grinning. "Some of the guys got into my head. It wasn't the ideal ball to bowl."
It didn't matter, because even without a magical three wickets in three balls, de Lange made a massive impression in the most important match of his career so far. His five-wicket haul, included three wickets in five balls and four in the space of three overs, and the pace and bounce he achieved suggested a bowler of genuine promise.
On a pitch that has offered assistance to the bowlers throughout the match, de Lange was presented with a perfect surface to show off his skills. At 1.9 metres tall, his height gives him an immediate advantage and on a pitch where bounce was on offer for bowlers who can exploit it, he was in his element. "The game-plan was to bowl back of a length and I hit the deck hard."
Like many top-class South African quicks, such as Allan Donald and Dale Steyn, de Lange does not come from one of the traditional cricketing schools. The agricultural town of Tzaneen in the Limpopo province, not far from Steyn's hometown of Phalaborwa, is where de Lange was brought up and schooled.
He played a range of sports at school, including javelin-throwing, which has been responsible for his unusually short run up. "I used to really enjoy my athletics and I also played a bit of hockey," he said. Cricket was also part of his education at Hoerskool Ben Vorster but he missed out on playing at under-19 level for the province because of a stress fracture to his ankle.
He was spotted by Northerns Provincial Union scouts and moved the 420 kilometres down the road to Centurion after the guidance of former Titans coach Chris van Noordwyk, who played a key role in assimilating de Lange with the franchise. After a handful of matches for the amateur Easterns side, he was picked for the national academy this winter and Lange made his SuperSport Series debut in September against the Knights and, again, immediately caught the eye.
He took five wickets in the fixture and earned the praise of two, important figures in South African cricket, former opening batsmen Boeta Dippenaar and former national coach, Corrie van Zyl. Dippenaar was playing for the Knights in that game and said his team-mate, Reeza Hendricks, who faced both de Lange and Morne Morkel in that match, "was convinced that Marchant bowled quite a bit faster than Morne." De Lange called Dippenaar's words of encouragement, "an excellent compliment."
van Zyl, who is now a selector, also had praise for de Lange after the first game. "He his good lengths and gets the ball to rise up from a length" he said. "I liked it that he was at batsmen all the time because of the bounce."
de Lange was included in the South Africa A side to face Australia as part of a plan to find and develop fast bowlers. "We have identified a few bowlers and we wanted to give Marchant this opportunity to see what he could do," van Zyl said. 'I'm glad to see he has taken it."
His display today has also eased concerns that South Africa's fast-bowling supply cupboard is running dry, something that was being talked about recently. "A couple of months ago people were asking what we would do if one of Steyn or Morkel got injured," van Zyl said. "Now we can see that we have solutions."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent