JOHANNESBURG – “You’re not a real fast bowler,” chirped Dean Elgar as Duanne Olivier expressed sympathy for the struggles endured by Pakistan’s ace batsman Azhar Ali following the Proteas' Test series whitewash.
“Shame, I feel sorry for him, he had a tough tour,” Olivier mused about Azhar’s problems in the Tests.
To use America parlance, Olivier “owned” Azhar in the three-match series, dismissing him in both innings of the first Test, the first innings of the second, and the fourth innings of the third.
Azhar finished the series as Olivier’s “bunny” and with an average of 9.83. It was brutal. So was Olivier’s bowling. Fast, short and accurate, it wasn’t pleasant to face, as Elgar could attest.
“I faced him in the four-day game before the series started and it was quite uncomfortable. I knew we’d be teammates the next week, but I didn’t know if I wanted to speak to him,” Elgar remarked.
Adding to Olivier’s effectiveness were the pitches, which bounced and seamed. “The (surfaces) helped quite a bit,” he admitted.
Still, 24 wickets in three Tests was a remarkable effort, bettered only once, 116 years ago by Charlie Llewellyn. It was a display of endurance and skill, which was just reward for a player who has been among the top wicket-takers on the domestic circuit for a few seasons.
When the Knights won the domestic Sunfoil Series two seasons ago, Olivier and opening partner Marchant de Lange cut a swathe of destruction through local cricket. Olivier finished that campaign with 52 wickets at an average of 18.13.
He got into the Test side on the back of that, making his debut against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers and toured New Zealand and England in 2017.
His bowling has always had that unrefined quality about it. He hits the pitch hard, but as his first class performances in recent seasons suggest, he is no one-trick pony.
Olivier admits there are elements of his bowling that could improve. “When I pitch the ball up, I feel it’s a little bit ‘floaty'.’’
Indeed, after his second over of the series, when he’d been driven twice by Azhar, he changed to the thunderous thumper of pitches, thereby changing the course of the series for him, Azhar and Pakistan.
“(I surprised myself) quite a bit, to be honest. I do like to bowl short, and to do it for three Tests, I’m very proud. I’m very happy that my body allowed me to do that,” he said.
It’s worth remembering that Olivier wouldn’t have started that first Test had Vernon Philander been fit - or for that matter, Lungi Ngidi.
But now, what of a World Cup call-up perhaps?
“I’m not thinking that far ahead; I take it day by day,” Olivier said.
“I’m going back to my franchise and see what happens there and just contribute towards the team; that’s the most important thing.”@shockerhess