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Bubbly young pup Coetzee sets Proteas record he hopes will be broken soon

The Proteas' Gerald Coetzee celebrates the wicket of Afghanistan's Mujeeb ur Rahman during the ICC Cricket World Cup match at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, India on Saturday.
The Proteas' Gerald Coetzee celebrates the wicket of Afghanistan's Mujeeb ur Rahman during the ICC Cricket World Cup match at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, India on Saturday.
Image: Pankaj Nangia/Gallo Images

Pressure? What pressure? If he could, Gerald Coetzee would play the World Cup semifinal right now.

“You want to be put in those positions,” he said about the prospect of facing Australia , with a spot in the World Cup final on the line. “We cannot wait for Thursday to come.”

He could barely contain himself. Smiling in anticipation of returning Eden Gardens, desperate to write his name into Proteas folklore and basically carrying on like a 23-year-old who is having the time of his life at his first World Cup.

He has reason to be bubbly; Coetzee’s 18 wickets in this tournament pushed him past Morne Morkel and Lance Klusener as the South African to take the most wickets at a single World Cup. It is a record he was only informed about when he left the field in Ahmadabad after the Proteas five-wicket win against Afghanistan, where he took 4/44 — and it is a record he hopes he doesn’t hold onto for long.

“It is very special. But you don’t come to a World Cup for those accolades,” Coetzee said.

His teammate Marco ‘Plank’ Jansen, has also taken 17 wickets, and if he adds to that figure in what the Proteas hope will be two more matches at the World Cup, no-one will be happier than Coetzee. “I hope he takes all the wickets. I don’t mind as long as we are winning — if he takes six and six, I will be so happy.”

Coetzee's impact at this tournament has been stunning. It’s worth remembering he may not have been here had Anrich Nortjé been fit.

That a rookie, who’d only played six ODIs before the World Cup, would have such a major impact, is another example of the depth of this Proteas squad and how everyone has played their part in helping the team reach the semifinal.

“The other guys play crucial roles — Keshav [Maharaj], 'KG' [Kagiso Rabada], Lungi [Ngidi], Plank, anyone can take wickets. We are a really good combination.

“I’ve matured as a bowler and understand what my strengths are.”

Simply put, he bowls fast — the majority of the time — but does throw in the odd off-speed ball to keep batters guessing. He can be wild — not only in celebration of a wicket but also what he bowls, with a few bouncers flying so far over wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock’s head that all anyone can do is laugh.

But his teammates clearly enjoy his infectiousness, the desire to perform on the world stage and his part in helping them exorcise the Proteas’ World Cup demons. His only memory of Proteas heartache in the event was the bitter defeat to New Zealand in 2015 semifinal, when Grant Elliot thumped Dale Steyn for six.

“That was an unbelievable side,” Coetzee said of the team, which was led by AB de Villiers. “That year, everyone backed the Proteas to win the World Cup, but someone has to lose on the day — that is the beauty of sport, which is why people keep coming back to watch it.”

Plenty will be watching on Thursday, with Coetzee, who was omitted from the team that faced India at Eden Gardens, desperate to play his part.

“If we lose, we lose, and if people want to call us chokers, that is outside our control. Someone has to lose but I promise we are going into that game to win it.”

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