You wouldn’t want to mess with this oke outside a club
Frightening batters doesn’t excite Duanne Olivier. It’s just what he does ... along with getting them out fast
Duanne Olivier is a nightclub bouncer of a bowler, a man who can seem as broad across the shoulders as he is tall. And he’s a long way from short. There’s menace in the jut of his jaw and an unsettling softness in his eyes: frightening batters doesn’t excite him. It’s just what he does.
Along, of course, with getting them out fast and furious. How fast? Upwards of 140km/h, and with a knack for sending screamers past helmets.
And fast enough to make a simpler, faster better start to his Test career than many of SA’s finest bowlers. He has 41 scalps after eight games – more than Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn or Morné Morkel at the same stage of their careers.
Buck Llewellyn also took 41 in the first eight of his 15 Tests, while Mike Procter claimed 41 in the only seven Tests he played. Alf Hall also played seven Tests, earning 40 scalps, and Joe Partridge and Allan Donald both had 38 after eight.
So Olivier would seem on course for the pantheon. His haul of 24 wickets at an average 14.70 in the three matches against Pakistan is easily his best performance in a career only eight games old.
Should he claim nine or more in his next Test he will join Peter Pollock as the second-fastest SA bowler to reach 50 career wickets. The fastest, Vernon Philander, roared to the milestone in only seven games.
Olivier’s current form is far cry from the kind of bowling that earned him 17 wickets in his first five Tests. What’s changed?
“[Previously] I was still very young, inexperienced, exposed to everything and thinking too far ahead; not concentrating on taking it ball by ball,” Olivier told reporters at the Wanderers after the end of the Pakistan series on Monday. “For this series I just tried to do that every ball.”
If he continues in that vein he could become the sixth SA bowler to claim 50 wickets in a calendar year. Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn have done it three times each, Shaun Pollock and Rabada twice, and Donald once. First past the post was Pakistan’s Waqar Younis, who took 58 in seven matches in 1993, when he bowled 271 overs. SA’s record-holder is Steyn, who claimed 51 in nine games and 357.4 overs in 2013. Olivier should bump up his total in the two home Tests in Sri Lanka in February although he’s likely to find conditions less to his liking in the three games SA are scheduled to play in India in October. But at least two of England’s four Tests in SA next summer should sneak into 2019, and thus be Olivier friendly.
All of which is, of course, selection permitting – which promises to be anything but straightforward what with rivals of the calibre of Lungi Ngidi, who has 15 wickets from four Tests and is due back from a knee injury by the end of February, in the mix.
“It’s not like I’m a certainty in the team where you play every game,” Olivier said.
Indeed, he has missed 15 Tests since he made his debut. And in that time a dozen men have bowled seam up for SA, including odds and sods like Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn.
So it’s complicated. But Olivier’s method is simple, and that can’t hurt – unless you’re the oke at the other end of the pitch. And as long as he avoids the kind of challenges that have derailed other promising careers.
Olivier won’t, for instance, run into the unfairness that stunted the unofficially mixed-race Llewellyn’s career. Or the business commitments in the textile industry that limited Hall’s time on the field. Or the isolation that protected opposing Test teams from the terrifying Procter.
But Partridge failed to find favour with the selectors as much as he might have had he not shared an era with Peter Heine and Neil Adcock. Bulawayo-born Partridge was a complex character who captained his school boxing team but bowled in spectacles.
Aged just 55 and having succumbed to homelessness and alcoholism, he came to a sticky end in 1988 when he shot himself in the head in a Harare police station after being arrested for ducking out on a hotel bill.
Olivier has many reasons to be rather more cheerful, not least the uncomplicated truth that he is what he seems to be: a bloody good fast bowler.
Who could also be a nightclub bouncer …