Yorkshire CCC believe they have yet to ‘see the best’ of Duanne Olivier

YORKSHIRE believe that they have yet to see the best of Duanne Olivier and can get him back to being the fearsome fast bowler that he was when he quit international cricket with South Africa to sign for them nearly three years ago.

Olivier has not, it is fair to say, pulled up the expected number of trees since turning his back on the international game to join Yorkshire initially on a Kolpak deal.

He has captured 75 wickets in 25 first-class appearances, three wickets in six one-day fixtures and 11 wickets in eight T20 matches.

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But Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire first team coach, is adamant that a man whose status transitioned into that of an overseas player after Brexit, and who has another year left on his contract, can justify the significant outlay on his services.

Yorkshire's Duanne Olivier has struggled this season with Covid issues and injury. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Olivier was one of many to quit a South African structure in which competition for places was fierce and a quota system in operation that capped the number of white players chosen, deciding that he needed greater security for himself and his family. “I think we’re still to see the best of Duanne,” said Gale.

“I thought we’d really see the best of him this year but he’s been a victim, in many ways, of the Covid situation.

“He came over last season, for the shortened season; he had no preparation and we threw him straight in because we had injuries of our own with Coad and Waite and Fisher, who all broke down, so we had to throw him in and he was massively undercooked.

“Then he went back to South Africa at the end of the season and the plan was for him to come back in January/February and do some gym work and get strong and bowl, and we were going to do a bit of work on his technique, and then South Africa went on the red list so we struggled to get him over.

“So we only got him over again this year a week before the season started, so his strength was down, his speed was down, and, like I say, due to Covid, he didn’t have the pre-season that all the other lads had.

“So what we want to do next year is get him over in January and give him a real good block of training that he hasn’t had for three or four years and get him to where he was when he first signed for us, bowling 90mph, that raw pace.

“His (overall) first-class record is still unbelievable (474 wickets at 23). He just hasn’t had the year this year that he would have liked and we would have liked, but I’m confident that Duanne will come back from that.”

At 29, Olivier should be somewhere near his peak and, on paper, is a big asset as he showed during a 10-Test career in which he took 48 wickets at 19 and broke into the top-20 of the world Test rankings.

It was considered a major coup when Yorkshire signed him, beating off stiff competition from other counties, but although there have been flashes of pace along the way (Olivier has seemingly hit as many batsmen on the head at times as he has taken wickets), there is the sense of a coiled spring that has still not fully released.

Olivier has managed only two five-wicket hauls for Yorkshire – 5-96 on his second appearance against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 2019, and 5-108 against Kent at Headingley later that year, although he was the club’s leading Championship wicket-taker that summer with 43.

Initially, it seemed that he struggled with bowling a traditional English length – always a difficult transition for an overseas player to make – but there were signs last year that he was bowling fuller.

Yet his and Yorkshire’s desire to build on that progress, and to translate it into the sort of form traditionally expected of an overseas signing, has been thwarted by Covid and also by injury, with Olivier managing just two first-team appearances since May and only eight last season in total.

“Duanne’s had a back injury,” said Gale, who named him in the squad for the final match of the season against Nottinghamshire last week only for Olivier to be left out of the starting XI at Trent Bridge.

“The Notts game was probably the first game that he had been available to us over the last two months, and we decided to go in a different direction.

“Duanne played a 50-over game (in August), he came back and broke down again, so we had to get him fit.

“But, because of Covid again, we didn’t manage to get him as much second-team cricket as we’d have liked because we had two games in two weeks called off with Covid, so we had to keep our first-team squad away from the second team.

“So he hadn’t managed to play enough cricket to convince himself and us that he could do the job on the pitch (against Notts).

“That Notts game was the first week that he was available and we just made a choice in Revis that we needed a bit more batting,” said Gale.

“But Duanne has a lot to offer and there were signs before that he was bowling that fuller length, not the South African length, and I thought that he was going to reap the rewards this year and hopefully he will do that next year instead.”