Proteas speedster Anrich Nortje will turn 26 on Saturday as he enters a pivotal stage in his career.
Nortje burst onto the international stage early this year following an impressive string of performances in the 2018 Mzansi Super League (MSL) when then-Proteas coach Ottis Gibson was desperately seeking a X-factor player heading into the 2019 World Cup in England.
Given his raw pace and the fact that he was a largely unknown entity in the global game, Nortje was included in the 15-man squad.
It was a meteoric rise to the top for a man who was regularly clocking speeds over 150 kph, but injury ruined what could have been the perfect year for him.
First, a shoulder strain cost him a stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL before a freak hand injury saw him ruled out of the World Cup.
Now, months later, Nortje is back to full fitness and is ready to get his international career going once again.
Because of his injuries, Nortje has only played four ODIs, but he did make his Test debut last month as the Proteas were smashed in India.
Nortje played two of the three Tests and struggled immensely, going for figures of 0/100 in Pune and then 1/79 in Ranchi.
With Steyn now retired from Test cricket and Philander nearing the end of his stunning career, Nortje emerges as part of the new breed of South African fast bowlers looking to get the national side back to being a dominant force in world cricket.
“It’s just about that belief,” he said this week.
“In my head, I’m trying to picture myself in that (new group of fast bowlers), otherwise it’s going to be a surprise every time you play for the Proteas and you’re going to feel like it’s your first game every time.
“I’m just trying to get in the mindset that I’m part of that … and I’m trying the best I can to prepare.”
Nortje says the learnings from India will stand him in good stead moving forward in his career.
“It was not easy for me as a seamer. I just didn’t hit my areas as consistently so one of the things I have taken out of it was to be more consistent at that level,” he said.
“It could have been in South Africa or England where you could have gotten away with it and thought you were alright, but there you saw the reality. It’s about trying to find that consistency.”
The good news for Proteas fans is that Nortje seems fully committed to the national cause.
There is always the concern that the country’s most promising talents who are on the fringes of the national side will pack up and leave for greener pastures with Kyle Abbott and Duane Olivier the most recent examples when it comes to fast bowling.
Nortje, though, looks like he is staying put.
“I want to play for South Africa whether there is Mzansi or not,” he said when asked if the MSL serves as a way of keeping the best players committed to South Africa.
“That’s always been the dream, so for as long as I can, that will be the priority.”