Duanne: SA’s swifter 'new Nella'!
Cape Town - It just gets dandier for Duanne Olivier.
SCORECARD: Proteas v Pakistan, third Test
The man described by currently suspended national captain Faf du Plessis recently as the Proteas’ “enforcer” only continued his series-long bullying trend against Pakistan at the Wanderers on Saturday.
Olivier bagged his third five-wicket haul in five innings during day two of the third Test, a contribution that enhanced the likelihood - though it is far from a done deal - of South Africa securing a 3-0 clean sweep.
Although their own batting remains anything but convincing, the host nation held a tidy lead of 212 runs with five second-innings wickets in hand at the close, suggesting an uphill task for the Pakistanis in whatever they are required to chase for victory.
The tourists, both technically and mentally fallible at the crease (with isolated exceptions), have only gone beyond the 200-mark once in five completed innings across the three Tests, to this point.
But whatever the Bullring result, Olivier seems unstoppable now in the race for the player-of-the-series laurel.
The 26-year-old paceman has advanced his scalps tally to 21 (at a dreamy average of 13) which draws him level with current team-mates Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander for most wickets by a South African in a three-Test series in the post-isolation era.
But apart from having every chance of eclipsing his colleagues in Pakistan’s second turn at the crease, he is also within a tantalising four wickets of emulating our all-time record-holder, Charlie Llewellyn, who seized 25 Australian wickets in a three-game homes series back in 1902/03.
Both of the first two Tests then were also, fittingly, played in Johannesburg, at the Old Wanderers.
The record for most wickets in a three-Test series by any international bowler is well out of Olivier’s reach, though: England’s George Lohmann secured 35 against South Africa on their 1895/96 tour here.
Still, the Knights spearhead has made it pretty clear that he has no intention of melting into the shadows when Lungi Ngidi, another of the Proteas’ emerging new breed of quickies, returns to full fitness soon.
Saturday’s five for 51 - again marked by his unyielding knack of “bouncing” batsmen out, whether specialist or tail-end - meant Olivier has moved to 38 wickets in just eight Tests, at an average of 17.68.
SuperSport’s diagram of his lengths in the series so far confirmed that he digs it in short a notable, stamina-sapping (or at least supposedly so) 75 percent of the time: yes, three of every four deliveries.
There are sure to be more challenging pitches and opponents further up the line as Olivier’s top-flight career develops and greater degrees of subtlety and variety are necessary, but as West Indies strike legend Michael Holding observed after the day’s play, why should Olivier change up his stock formula too much while he is earning such eye-catching returns?
Nor is it as though he is exclusively dismissing batsmen with his “bomb ‘em” approach: at least one of Saturday’s successes came with some away-shape to the right-hander off a fuller length.
But Olivier is nevertheless looking increasingly like a worthy successor to South African intimidatory, back-of-a-length bowlers like Andre Nel and Brian McMillan, even if the latter could also generate disconcerting lift a few inches closer up to the bat as well.
Where he differs from “Big Mac”, of course, is that McMillan was one of the now violently shrinking stock of fully-fledged, bat-in-the-top-six type of all-rounders who wasn’t too often renowned for lengthy bowling spells as a result; he had other responsibilities to consider.
The advantage Olivier has over Nel, another brawny physical specimen, is that he operates at considerably superior, consistent pace levels; it was often said that “Nella” earned quite a few of his Test scalps more through his icy stare and other animated hallmarks than because he was a genuine speed merchant.
He sent down a “heavy” ball, but was really more of a 135km/h fast bowler than Olivier, who is comfortable in reaching the 140-mark regularly and even shooting some deliveries through at around 145km/h and above.
Although he may look shorter because of his almost slouching-style walk to his mark, Olivier is taller than some people may imagine: something confirmed when he narrowly beat off both Holding and Shaun Pollock, not exactly diminutive cricketers, for height when they stood together during post-play analysis after the close on Saturday.
Pollock had earlier praised the in-form player for his “massive energy ... he just keeps coming at you”.
Olivier isn’t done yet for exertions at the Wanderers.
The Pakistanis know that only too well ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing