Nortje returns to bowling but will he be ready for DC first game?

IPL 2024

Nortje, who missed the World Cup with a lumbar stress fracture, is back to bowling.

Anrich Nortje didn't go around the world in 80 days. He went nowhere, in a cricket sense, for 100 days more than that. When the monster moustache with a man attached stood ready to bowl on Friday, the equivalent of six months had passed since that last happened in a competitive match.

Delhi Capitals fans will thus expect Nortje to be on hand for their first match of the IPL against Punjab Kings in Mullanpur on March 23. But they may need to temper their hopes with realism. Whether he will or won't be there could hinge on reasons that go beyond cricket.

Nortje's appearance for the Warriors in a CSA T20 Challenge match against the Tuskers at St George's Park was the first time he had played in an official game since the second ODI against Australia in Bloemfontein on September 9 last year - when he left the field after bowling five overs. A lumbar stress fracture was discovered. It kept him out of the World Cup, South Africa's Test series against India, and the SA20. He spent some of the downtime popping up in familiar places, notably as an ambassador during the men's under-19 World Cup in South Africa in January and February.

Nortje's 180 days of going nowhere slowly ended successfully on Friday. He was upstaged by Marco Jansen's 4/19, but all things considered he would have been satisfied with his return of 0/12. His readiness wasn't tested by bowling consecutive overs - he sent down the second, sixth, ninth and 15th - and the opposition weren't the strongest. The Tuskers were bowled out for 88 and have lost both of their matches. But only eight of Nortje's 24 deliveries yielded runs off the bat and he was hit for just one four.

"He came through well," Warriors coach Robin Peterson told Cricbuzz, adding that Nortje had played two practice matches before his return. "His pace was up; he's as quick as I've seen him. He looks happy with his body. Now his target is playing back-to-back competitive games."

That won't happen before Sunday. Micaela Nortje is due to give birth to the couple's first child imminently. Consequently Nortje is not leaving Gqeberha for the Warriors' away games. He missed Sunday's match against the Dolphins in Durban and won't be in Centurion for the clash with the Titans on Wednesday. But he has been pencilled in for the home game against Boland on Sunday.

Nortje is among the fastest bowlers in the game: he owns three of the IPL's 10 all-time quickest deliveries, all three of them upwards of 150 kilometres and hour. To keep his membership of that club he needs to be able to trust his natural equipment to perform accordingly.

Nortje missed the 2019 IPL because of a shoulder injury and, that same year, the World Cup with a hand problem. He has had to abide other absences forced by physical agonies. Even though he has recovered from his latest setback, could he still believe in a body that will turn 31 in November?

"There's always that element of getting confident in the machine again," Peterson said. "But Anrich is incredibly professional. He's had injuries before, so he's got some sort of formula on how to recover and what to do. The more I watch him bowl, the more he seems fine. He looks fit and healthy. He looks happy."

What was his mental state? "He's rock solid," Peterson said. "He's got no issues. Anrich is a low-maintenance cricketer. He does his work and gets on with it."

This is good news for Delhi's fans but also concerning. They will welcome the fact that Nortje is fit and firing again. They will also wonder whether he will be good to go for them only six days after he is due to play on Sunday. Even if he is, he will go into cricket's biggest tournament with precious little bowling behind him.

But, as Phileas Fogg tells fellow members of the Reform Club rendered incredulous at his assertion that he can make it around the world in as few as 80 days, "A well-used minimum suffices for everything."

The bigger issue is whether Nortje becomes a father in time to reach India and perform, in Mullanpur on March 23, for a franchise who pay him USD785,000 - more than 10 times the value of his annual CSA contract - to bowl like the wind.

The still bigger issue is that he is contractually bound to, sooner rather than later, leave behind the woman he loves and their precious newborn and plunge into the madness of the IPL. All that money buys a lot of nappies, but not happiness.