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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2023 Debutant of the year: Gerald's game

Fast, furious and fearless, South Africa's wunderkind pacer announced himself at the World Cup and made an impression in every format

Deepti Unni
20-Feb-2024
Whispers of a young fast bowler who could routinely hit the high 140kphs had been doing the rounds since Coetzee took 5 for 32 against New Zealand at the 2018 Under-19 World Cup. Those grew louder when he took six wickets, including 4 for 53 for Knights in his debut first-class game the following year. Ian Bishop had had his eye on him since the junior World Cup. "I've really thought he's a stand-out performer, that he will play international cricket at some point for South Africa, if he stays there," he said.
Coetzee did, in all three formats, and in a World Cup year no less. For that tournament, he found himself called up to the squad in the absence of South Africa's key quicks, Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala, and he grabbed the opportunity to make an impression. Tall and skiddy, with the ability to swing the ball at pace - and a headband game that would draw an appreciative whistle from Dale Steyn - Coetzee troubled batters with bounce and aggression, particularly in the middle overs, all through the tournament.
Against England, he went for 16 runs in his first over, Jos Buttler pumping him for consecutive fours and a six, but Coetzee returned an over later to dismiss the England captain edging a nippy delivery first ball, then accounted for Harry Brook in the next two balls. It was to become a recurring theme for Coetzee - he'd go for plenty of runs, but come back to take incisive wickets.
He kneecapped Pakistan, breaking up Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan's partnership, and ending an 84-run sixth-wicket between Saud Shakeel and Shadab Khan. He picked up his first four-wicket bag of the tournament against Afghanistan, and then prised out Josh Inglis and Steven Smith in the semi-final against Australia.
Fifteen of his 20 World Cup wickets came in the middle overs, the most of any quick bowler in the tournament - the only other bowler to take more in the phase was Adam Zampa, with 17. To illustrate what a potent point of difference he made to South Africa's bowling attack, the only two games the side lost in the league stage of the tournament were the ones where he didn't perform - he took just one wicket in the loss to Netherlands, and sat out the match against India. He finished as South Africa's top wicket-taker of the tournament.
Earlier in the year, on Test debut, he picked up three wickets against West Indies and doubled his tally in the next Test. In his final T20I of the year, against India, he was on a hat-trick in the final over when rain scuppered the innings. In the 21 internationals he played in the year, he went wicketless in just three, two ODIs and one T20I, all against Australia.

Key moment

Called in by captain Temba Bavuma when Babar and Rizwan looked to be building a steady partnership for Pakistan, Coetzee peppered the batters with the short ball, discombobulating both. He fired one into Babar Azam's armpit that the batter only barely managed to keep down, then bounced Rizwan out next ball as he swiped wildly at one that lifted hard off the deck. He followed the same template with Shadab Khan, who top-edged a 140kph head-high bumper to short midwicket, breaking yet another ballooning partnership.

The numbers

3 The number of bowlers with more wickets than Coetzee in the World Cup. He tied for fourth place with Jasprit Bumrah, with 20 wickets each.
19 Coetzee's strike rate in the World Cup, the best of any bowler who took more than 15 wickets, save Mohammad Shami.

What they said

"As a young guy, he really was the warrior for us … He kept on going, he was cramping but he kept going. He'll be a big asset for South African cricket going forward."
- Captain Temba Bavuma on Coetzee's spell against Australia in the World Cup semi-final
"He's the kind of guy who plays with his heart on his sleeve but doesn't get too emotional. He does exactly what a fast bowler is required to do - he hits hard lengths, he's very smart about how he uses his short ball and when to change up."
- Dale Steyn on ESPNcricinfo's Match Day

The closest contender

Yashasvi Jaiswal
After breaking multiple domestic records and starring in a prolific IPL season for Rajasthan Royals, 22-year-old Jaiswal had the kind of Test debut most batters dream of - against West Indies, on a slow pitch in Dominica he ran up a patient 171 runs in his eight hours at the crease. He followed it up with another half-century in his next Test. Later on the same tour, he made an unbeaten 84 in the fourth T20I, adding 165 with Shubman Gill. He was also key in India's Asian Games campaign, making a 49-ball 100 against Nepal that sealed India's slot in the semi-final.

Deepti Unni is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo