For Morne Morkel, that moment in the penultimate over of the third day of the Gabba Test on Sunday when he grabbed the wicket of Ed Cowan only to find that he’d overstepped the crease, must now be the stuff of nightmares.
Yesterday, the left-handed opener went on to strike his debut hundred in a massive partnership of 259 with his captain Michael Clarke, who struck an unbeaten double-century, so it would hardly have been a surprise if Morkel had felt each run like a hammer-blow.
He will also recall that no-ball he bowled at Lord’s last August when Matt Prior was “caught” by JP Duminy during England’s heroic but ultimately unsuccessful run chase. That potential horror story eventually had a happy ending, but it might not have done.
Up until the end of the fourth day’s play at the Gabba, yesterday, South Africa bowled a total of 22 no-balls with the Cobras’ pair of Rory Kleinveldt (11) and Vernon Philander (8) the worst offenders.
“There’s no excuse for that,” said bowling coach Allan Donald yesterday at the end of a hard, exhausting day for the South African attack in which they only took one wicket (a run-out) the entire day at a cost of 376 runs.
“We police that very hard in practice.”
The worrying thing about the no-balls is that it’s symptomatic of a lack of discipline in the South African attack, something they have prided themselves on for the last few years as they rose up the world rankings.
Donald pointed out that South Africans bowled 26 no-balls in the first Test at the Oval, another occasion when they weren’t punished for their sins.
What’s clear right now is that the Australians have so far created some severely seamer-unfriendly pitches (in the tour match at Sydney and the current Test match here) which would test the best attacks. Obviously bowling no-balls compounds the problems the South Africans already face.
Asked whether Philander – who has yet to take a wicket on tour – had been found out in Australia, Donald replied: “Obviously he knew that he would run into something like this. He’s a class bowler, but I thought the batsmen did their homework pretty well, they came out of their creases to nullify the LBWs, especially Ed Cowan who got a good stride in to him.”
Donald then painted the bigger picture: “There are going to be those days when you really have to slog it out, when you toil for long periods of time. I call Vernon the honest businessman, he comes to the party for most of the time ... but that’s why we have a group of players; when someone’s having a tough day the others need to help him out.”
He continued: “I always thought the biggest test we would have here would be the test of length, and mixing up your pace very well.
“If anything, I’ve been a little surprised that there’s been no movement at all off the seam.”
Donald then spoke about the “cat and mouse game that is Test cricket” where bowlers sometimes looked for too much, or bowled too many types of deliveries, which often played into the hands of the batsmen.
Speaking about the South African bowlers, Donald said: “Everyone’s feeling a bit knackered right now”.