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Feature

The rise of the Bloemfontein Bone Collector

More consistent and better rounded than when he made his Test debut, Duanne Olivier has embraced the role of being South Africa's enforcer

Liam Brickhill
Liam Brickhill
15-Jan-2019
Duanne Olivier is poised for take-off  •  Getty Images

Duanne Olivier is poised for take-off  •  Getty Images

Duanne. Doozle. The Bloemfontein Bone Collector.
Whatever you call him, Duanne Olivier has been the most outstanding performer on either side during South Africa's Test series victory over Pakistan. "From our point of view," said coach Ottis Gibson, "Olivier was the difference."
As Dale Steyn has said, "he's hot right now", and much too hot for Pakistan's top order. Olivier picked up 24 wickets across three Tests in South Africa's demolition of the visitors, including a six-wicket haul, two five-fors and a four-for. Along the way, he broke the previous series record against Pakistan of 20 wickets, set by Steyn, and came close to equalling another record - for most wickets taken by a South African bowler in a three-match series against any opposition - that has stood for 116 years. That's not a bad haul for a player who might not even have got a look-in had Vernon Philander not fractured a finger ahead of the first Test.
"It's very satisfying," said Olivier. "If you look back at the first Test, Vern was injured, so I got an opportunity there. And for me it was just about making that most of that opportunity. It's not like I'm a certainty in the team where you expect to play every game. So I just try to have fun and when the opportunity presents itself, make the most of it. So far it's been good. I'm enjoying being back in the side."
It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Olivier, but as with most things, overnight success is usually anything but. Born in Groblersdal, a farming town with a population of just over 4,000 in South Africa's Limpopo province, Olivier's talent was first identified as a teenager twelve years ago. He was then selected for Northerns' Under-19 side during the Khaya Majola Week tournament in 2010, and subsequently Northerns, Free State and then the Knights franchise gave him a pathway to a cricket career.
Dean Elgar, Olivier's captain in the third Test, was an early witness to Olivier's rise, playing alongside him when Olivier made his Knights debut in the franchise one-day competition in 2011. "We've come a very long way," said Elgar, who also added to Olivier's list of nicknames with 'Bloemfontein Bone Collector'.
"We were teammates when I was still based in Bloemfontein, he made his debut when I was in Bloem as well. So I've seen him develop quite a lot over the last few years. He's definitely done himself a world of good by what he's done in this series. It's awesome to know that I was part of the start of his career. I'm very, very proud of what he's done."
"It's quite scary when you see him running up, bowling at 140 plus, and the ball is just skimming past a guy's helmet. It's quite intimidating, and it's good to know he's on your side. Although you don't always want to face him in the nets."
Dean Elgar
Olivier has indeed snapped a few bones along the way, and his bouncer has served him well - but it's important to note that it is not his only weapon, and in the right conditions, he is also dangerous when pitching the ball up: 17 of the 44 wickets he took for Derbyshire last season were either bowled or lbw. Still, his ability to strike with the full ball is an area of his game Olivier would like to improve further. "When I do pitch up the ball a little bit, it can be a bit floaty," he said. "So I'd like to be more consistent in that."
Consistency was one thing that was perhaps lacking in Olivier's initial foray into Test cricket. He was part of the side that lost to England in 2017, leaking runs at Trent Bridge before improving somewhat at Old Trafford. "If I look back at my previous Tests, I was still a little young, inexperienced, and a little bit exposed to everything," explained Olivier. "And thinking too far ahead, not concentrating on taking it ball by ball. For this series, I just tried to do that."
Staying in the moment a little more has also helped Olivier in the domestic game, and he was leading wicket-taker in the four-day Sunfoil Series in 2016/17, with 52 dismissals. He returned to the Test side against Bangladesh in 2017, just as Gibson arrived to take up the coaching role. Born in Barbados, with an eye for the qualities he admires in a fast bowler, Gibson quickly took notice, and Olivier's abilities also began to gain traction overseas.
Olivier's success with Derbyshire, who he helped to their first home Championship win since 2014, also brought him to the attention of Yorkshire, who were reported to be mulling a Kolpak offer. But Olivier stayed at home and, vitally, was picked up by Jozi Stars in the inaugural Mzansi Super League. He was the leading wicket-taker in that tournament, gaining plenty of confidence that also shone through in his four-day performances.
"It's a confidence thing," explained Olivier. "I played in the MSL where I did reasonably well. And in the four-day preparation I did quite well there as well."
Elgar was at the receiving end of Olivier's missiles in the four-day franchise game between Knights and Titans that preceded the first Test, and suggested even facing him in the nets is a daunting prospect.
"I faced him in the four-day game before the series started, and it was quite uncomfortable, knowing that we're going to be teammates the next week, and we're going to speak," said Elgar. "It's nice to have a guy in your side that can run in and bowl serious pace. He's got skill and gets steep bounce from a good length and also ultimately that's assisted by the wickets we play on. It's quite scary when you see him running up, bowling at 140 plus, and the ball is just skimming past a guy's helmet. It's quite intimidating, and it's good to know he's on your side. Although you don't always want to face him in the nets."
Helped by conditions, Olivier has settled into the 'enforcer' role in South Africa's Test side, going some way towards filling the hole left by Morne Morkel's international retirement. Olivier admitted that the workload of charging in and bowling short for three Tests in quick succession "does take quite a bit out of your body", but he repeatedly stressed that he is more than happy to do whatever his team asks of him.
"It's a team sport," said Oliver. "If we as a bowling unit can get 10 wickets each innings, we're winning. For me, I do like to bowl short, and to do it for three Tests, I'm very proud of that. I'm very happy that my body allowed me to do that. I'm just having fun, enjoying every moment, because you never know when it's your last game. It's a team effort, and we played exceptionally well."
As to whether his current success, and experience in English conditions, might win him a place in South Africa's squad for the World Cup, Olivier won't be drawn to comment. He'll just take things day by day, moment by moment, and ball by ball, and keep putting his team first.
"I'm not thinking that far ahead. I take it day by day. I'm going back now to my franchise, and I'll see what happens there. I'll just contribute towards the team, and that's the most important thing."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town