The merits and menace of Burger that singed India

Burger picked seven wickets on his Test debut
Burger picked seven wickets on his Test debut ©AFP

Difficult as it is to believe, Nandre Burger could kill you doing his day job. When he stood and spoke to reporters at Centurion on Thursday, a smidgen of sunblock in his ear, a paper cup and wooden stirrer in his hand, the look of a lamb on his fresh, modestly moustachioed, bearded face, he didn't want to believe it himself.

"I don't think I'd want to do that, but ... I can't describe how that feels and I never want to experience that," Burger said, then he took a stab at the admittedly leading question: "It's nice to be able to strike fear into someone, if I can put it that way." Cold flashed through his eyes as he ended his answer. Maybe there was a fast bowler inside all that niceness after all.

Certainly, there is when the 1.88-metre Burger thunders to the crease and lets loose, left arm, with deliveries that touch 150 kilometres per hour. He was too hot to handle for Yashasvi Jaiswal and KL Rahul in both innings of the Centurion Test, in which he also dismissed Shubman Gill and Ravichandran Ashwin.

Burger was on a hattrick on Thursday when he chugged in to Virat Kohli. India's icon of the age was 49 not out and his team's last hope of making South Africa bat again. The ball, which was pitched short, left Kohli and whistled past the shoulder of his bat close enough to provoke, for an instant, thoughts that the edge had been found. "In all honesty, I wanted to bowl it a bit fuller," Burger said.

Still, hauls of 3/50 and 4/33 represent a decent debut. Did he have a darling wicket among them? "Every wicket could be your last wicket. So every last wicket will be my favourite."

Burger, 28, might never have taken a first Test wicket. At 17 he came close to giving up cricket for tennis, and he has been dogged by a slew of injuries - he didn't play for a week short of a year from October 2021 to October 2022 because of a lumbar stress fracture. "It's tough to miss games and watch everyone else play, but that's made me appreciate my teammates more; being happy for other people, being selfless," he said. "It helped me be a lot better in that regard. But to be back and playing is the best feeling."

The Centurion Test was Burger's 41st first-class match. Given the bumper crowd and the scale of South Africa's thumping victory, by an innings and 32 runs inside three days despite the loss of almost 50 overs to rain, this game was nothing like the rest. "Every wicket you take is for 60-million South Africans, so it feels a lot different to other first-class cricket," Burger said.

He played the Centurion Test in shirt No. 71, but he might want to change that to 13 - which is currently worn by squadmate Wiaan Mulder. Burger made his international debut in all three formats in the 13 days from December 14 to 26, and he took two wickets in his first 13 Test deliveries.

South Africa deployed an all-pace attack in Centurion, a decision that paid off handsomely. India couldn't survive for longer than 101.5 overs across both innings on a challenging but far from unfair pitch that proved itself sound enough for Dean Elgar to make 185 and KL Rahul 101, along with Marco Jansen's unbeaten 84, Virat Kohli's 76 and David Bedingham's 56.

Keshav Maharaj will likely come back into the equation for the second Test at Newlands, which starts on Wednesday. Burger did more than enough to keep his place, but someone will have to make way for Maharaj. And as the junior in the pack, that someone might be Burger.

That, however, was another matter for another day. For now, we needed to know what was in that paper cup. A celebratory beer, perhaps? Burger seemed alarmed enough at the suggestion to answer the question several times: "I don't drink, I don't drink, I don't drink. It's coffee. I drink coffee. And water." With that, he was off: "Awesome. Thanks very much."

Yes, he really is a fast bowler. Yes, he really could kill you.



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