Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
South Africa fast bowler Anrich Nortje is still some way away from being at the level he was before his back and hip injuries, which kept him out of action for almost five months.
Nortje was cleared of any serious injury just before IPL 2022 and allowed to continue his rehabilitation with Delhi Capitals. He made his comeback in Capitals' third game of the tournament but it took him almost one more month to play his next match and feature regularly in the playing XI. Nortje finished the tournament with nine wickets from six games at an economy rate of 9.71. In the ongoing T20I series against India, he has three wickets so far from as many games, at an economy rate of 9.50.
"No, not yet," Nortje said when asked if he was back to his best. "I am still working on it, still trying to find one or two things, and body-wise also I am not 100% yet there where I want to be. It's just about slowly increasing and slowly building it up. I would probably rate myself from where I was last year in the IPL and at the start of the World Cup, so still trying to get there.
"Some of the bowling is limited, you can't always just go out and bowl eight or nine overs in a day. But so far it has been a good challenge. I think it's something that will help me a lot if there are any other niggles or injuries going forward. But it has been a long time and [there are] some important things to remember and take out of this."
But could he pinpoint what was missing? "If I knew exactly what it was, I would have done it," he laughed. "I generally keep it very simple, stick to the basics. So it's just going to be a small, minor adjustment. I am working on something at this stage and will see how it goes. Hopefully, I am on the right path. It's not like it's completely out of shape. It's just small margins for me."
When fully fit, Nortje is one of the fastest bowlers in the world. In IPL 2020, he clocked 156.2kph, which was the fastest delivery in the tournament between 2012 and 2020. This year, Umran Malik, who is part of India's current T20I squad, broke his record by bowling at 156.9kph, before Gujarat Titans' Lockie Ferguson went one ahead with 157.3kph in the final against Rajasthan Royals. Nortje, though, is more focused on winning the matches for his team than being the fastest bowler around.
"At this stage, I'm not bothered too much about who is the fastest and what the speed gun says," he said. "It's about what I can contribute for the team. When you train, when you are not playing, you obviously think about how you can crank it faster with your work, your training, your gym, or whatever you're doing. So in the back of my mind, it's something that I would like to keep on striving towards. But it's not something I'm thinking about when I go onto the field.
"Malik is a very good bowler, very fast bowler. He showed what he can do. And if he gets faster, great for him. If I get faster, great for me. But I don't think we are at that stage where we are competing to try and just bowl the fastest ball. It's about winning games and trying to contribute."
South Africa currently lead the five-match T20I series 2-1, and Nortje reiterated that the team is aiming to seal the series as early as possible, without giving India a chance.
"I said at the last game as well that this was sort of like a final for us. We obviously didn't perform well or anything to what we are capable of. So this would probably be like a final again for us. A second chance but we need to seal the series as soon as possible and not give them an opportunity or any sniff, that's the main goal of this series as well."