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Match Analysis

Nortje, Joseph and the thrill of a nail-biting Test match

Fast bowlers from both sides have contributed to a game moving in fast-forward in Centurion

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Anrich Nortje is pumped after another wicket, South Africa vs West Indies, 1st Test, Centurion, 2nd day, March 1, 2023

Anrich Nortje produced a stunning display of fast bowling and his fans absolutely loved it  •  Gallo Images/Getty Images

A baker's dozen of Anrich Nortje fans made up the biggest section of the crowd at SuperSport Park on Wednesday afternoon and they had a lot to do copying their cult hero.
First it was the figure-of-four stretch which required them to balance on one leg, cross the opposite ankle over the standing knee and then crouch down to feel the stretch in the outer hip. With an afternoon's worth of beers down them, some wobbled, some tumbled and others didn't even bother, as Nortje switched effortlessly from one side to the next. Then came the more simple side stretch. Both legs on the ground, one arm up and over to the other side to give the obliques and lats a nice release. That was followed by the arm swing to warm up the shoulder joint and a bit of jumping up and down on the spot to get the legs ready. But the hardest bit came when Nortje jogged to his mark and was ready to bowl his third spell.
In the previous two, Nortje threatened with the short ball and got the wicket of Jermaine Blackwood, who inside-edged to the wicketkeeper. West Indies meandered from that point and scored at 2.26 runs to the over and when they lost Raymon Reifer and Roston Chase in successive balls, it was Nortje time and his small army of supporters were more than ready.
Twelve of them took their places on the edge of the grass bank, leaving one behind to pretend to be a West Indian batter. As Nortje ran in, so did they. Slower, obviously. As he released the ball, so did they. An imaginary one, obviously. They reached the edge of the boundary just in time to see Joshua da Silva cut the ball and Marco Jansen catch it. Nortje erupted in cheers and so did they. Pumped up, all of them, they went again.
For the second ball, the crew arrived at their viewing point to see Jason Holder block it. As Heinrich Klaasen clapped and Nortje turned to head back to the top of his run-up, they clapped and turned themselves. As Nortje shook his head and muttered to himself, so did they. Was he reminding himself to hold the length back? He must have been because the third ball was a touch short and Holder left it alone. Nortje and his fans were getting into their rhythm.
They readied for delivery number four and mock sent it down just as Nortje delivered another short ball and Holder was squared up, popping an edge to Aiden Markam at second slip. While the South Africans on the field high-fived Nortje, those on the sidelines patted each other's backs. In the space of 17 deliveries, West Indies had lost four wickets for 10 runs and their middle order had been blown away. Some of it could be blamed on shot selection - da Silva failing to keep the cut down for example - but a lot of it on the pressure South Africa put on West Indies in the final session.
That's when most wickets have fallen in this game so far: 18 have been taken in the third session of day one and two combined, compared with six in the first two sessions on both days. Holder blamed it on variable bounce. "A couple of balls kept low," he said. "On this pitch, I don't think you're ever in. You have to watch very single delivery, play as late as possible and when you get opportunities to score, just score."
No batter other than Markram, and to a lesser extent Dean Elgar and Reifer, applied themselves in that way. "He is well-balanced at the moment," Holder said of South Africa's first-innings centurion. He is really moving well and poised at the crease," Holder said. "He looks like he has a little bit more time than everyone else and that's because he is moving well."
Markram was back at the crease at the end of the second day because less than 50 minutes after Nortje ended the West Indies innings with a final spell of 5-2-7-4, his posse were silenced. Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach and Holder removed four of their top five, and the fans sat in a small patch of shade and looked on, stunned.
Joseph, in particular, put in a big effort after completing his first Test five-for earlier in the day. He now has seven wickets to his name in this match and like Nortje, used the short ball to good effect. Elgar was dismissed for the second time in the match trying to ramp Joseph over deep third. He then accounted for Temba Bavuma, who became the third South African captain after AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis to bag a pair at SuperSport Park and was on his toes trying to defend a delivery that straightened on him and took the edge.
In 2020, on tour to England, Joseph told The Guardian that he was committed to Test cricket and wanted to become West Indies' leading bowler in the format. This was a culmination of that dedication. "I am not surprised by his performance at all," Holder said. "He came in quite young and he has learnt significantly over the time he has played for West Indies. I'm really pleased with his progress. Now that he has that first five-for, we'll see a few more from him. He is leading the attack, running in and giving a lot of energy with the new ball."
Will that tempt the Nortje emulators to find someone else to copy on the third day? It's unlikely given that there may not be that many more of them at SuperSport Park. Given the fast-forward nature of this match, it won't last the full five days and cricket fans in South Africa may get their first weekend off since the SA20 started in January. More's the pity because even though this hasn't had the profile of the match taking place in Indore, Holder hopes it can bring the excitement of the recently completed match in Wellington, with South Africa 179 runs in the lead and only six wickets left in hand.
"This game has created a really good challenge for us. It's good for Test cricket," Holder said. "If you look at the recent match between England and New Zealand - this could set us up for something like that."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket