The 25-year-old South African fast bowler, who caught people’s attention while playing for the Cape Town Blitz in the Mzansi Super League, was picked up by the Kolkata Knight Riders coached by Jacques Kallis for Rs 20 lakh.
"I didn't really expect to get picked up, but I thought, well, definitely give it a shot. When I get on the shortlist I was quite happy. I was in Struisbaai, in the Western Cape, just in a shopping centre when someone phoned me and I heard," Nortje told ESPNCricinfo.
"I was busy getting meat for a braai that night," he said.
Nortje made his first class debut five years ago but it was after the 2017-18 season that his stock rose rapidly.
The pacer’s first tryst with Indian conditions in competitive cricket came during South Africa A’s tour of India where he dismissed Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari in the second unofficial Test against India A.
That tour gave Nortje, currently recovering from an ankle injury, a platform to work with for the 2018-19 domestic season where in five matches he claimed 24 wickets including back to back five-fors and six-fors.
"It started with getting selected for SA A, and then just bowling straight through the winter. I had a lot of cricket, a lot of prep, a lot of bowling. It's been very busy and very exciting. Getting selected for the MSL was also a great thing. It got people looking my way a little bit. It would have been nice to play a little more, but it was still a great opportunity."
People were talking about his potential and pace even before the MSL with the likes of Dawid Malan and Dale Steyn vouching for his pace.
"Just watching Nortje bowling, he bowled at the speed of lightning, that was pretty scary," said Dawid Malan after one of the warm-ups.
"He's got raw pace," his team-mate Dale Steyn said.
Blitz coach Ashwell Prince also heaped praise on the bowler who reportedly touched 150 kmph in the warm-up matches.
"I have no doubt he will go on to play successfully at Test match level."
"I was also a little bit surprised to see the speeds," admitted Nortje. "I did change one or two things and I could feel it's a little bit quicker, and there's a little bit more power at the crease. But to see the pace was nice."
"I definitely think there was one four-day game at Centurion, that I could definitely feel it was quicker. Quicker than what I bowled at MSL. But that was just one spell that I bowled. This season, compared to previous seasons, has definitely been the quickest."
During his stint in the MSL, Nortje bagged some big wickets in Aiden Markram, Farhaan Behardien, Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma. The difference in terms of the domestic games and the MSL was that the latter was telecast and that helped him grab more than a few eyeballs.
"Without that [MSL], I wouldn't have been picked up. It was my first big T20 tournament, I'd like to get more exposure from here on, and IPL would definitely help that."
Hailing from Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, Nortje credits his success to the coaches and trainers who have helped nurture his talent. Nortje says his age-group coach Andre du Plessis, provincial coach Piet Botha, his Warriors fitness trainer and Warriors coach Rivash Gobind were key to his development as they allowed him and the team to play freely.
Unfortunately, Nortje’s MSL journey derailed due to an ankle injury which will see him stay away from the game till the turn of year. But the IPL contract with KKR, which was a surprise according to him, has ensured he has something to look forward to.
"I'm just excited to be playing [in the IPL]. If I can get a game that would probably be the most exciting thing for me. It doesn't really bother me who I'm bowling to or whatever. I just want to play and just do my thing."
Understandably, Nortje wants to play for the South African team, but the prospect of being able to bowl at some of the best in the game does excite him.
"Bowling to Virat? Wow, I don't know," he laughs. "He's an unbelievable player. I'll have to assess it on the day, assess the wicket, and just go according to the plan of what the coach and the team wants."
"I'd definitely like to play for the Proteas. I'd play any time, any format, it doesn't matter what it is. I just want to get into the green and gold and play for South Africa."
First Published: December 21, 2018, 11:18 PM IST