Morné Morkel is a very complex individual. He is well over 1.83m tall, his legs go on forever and his arms are almost twice as long as his legs. Add in the fact that he has the ability to send a cricket ball down from the stratosphere across 22 yards at speeds in excess of 145km/h, and he could be a very intimidating character.
Yet, that could not be further from the truth. Morkel is soft-spoken, a humble man from Vereeniging – a town where people frown upon those who are “up themselves” as the Kiwis would put it. And coupled with the fact that Morkel is extremely sensitive towards what the public and media’s perception of his bowling ability is, it is clear that there are two sides to this beast.
Ironically enough it displays in his on-field performance across the different formats. For the past five years South Africans have had to listen to foreign media rave about Morkel, and how he is Dale Steyn’s other half – a bit like Wasim and Waqar, Lillee and Thomson, Holding and Garner. Unfortunately Morkel has not quite fulfilled his immense potential as yet or reached the heights of Steyn in the Test arena.
His numbers are good, 129 wickets at 30.57, but it has been the lost radar spells between the wicket-taking deliveries that have marred his 36-match Test career. When the legs are pumping and the “levers” are working in rhythmic motion, Morkel is virtually unplayable. But when the mechanics are not in order, which often leads to a no-ball problem too, it becomes a long day for Morkel with the red ball.
This is in complete contrast to the confidence-filled Morkel that bestrides the one-day and Twenty20 arenas like the giant that he is. It’s quite bizarre actually that in formats where greater restrictions are placed upon a fast bowler Morkel has thrived. In 54 ODIs, he has taken 94 wickets at 23.18. In T20s he has been even more prolific, claiming 32 wickets at 17.21 in 22 matches.
His ODI numbers are even more impressive over the last 18 months. He’s claimed 29 wickets at 19.13 in 2010/11, while there has been a further 13 in the last home series against Australia and Sri Lanka. During this period Morkel has produced three of the four best performances of his career.
Then in Napier this week he claimed his first ODI “fiver”, finishing with 5/38 to spearhead the Proteas’ push to completing a series win over the Black Caps.
“I’m just happy it all came together and I put in that special performance for the team,” Morkel said. “It was important from my personal point of view to put in a solid performance. The team needs their fast bowlers to run in and hit their straps and set the tone for the 50 overs. That’s our job.”
While Morkel is quite different to Steyn in terms of bowling style, he does feed off the Proteas’ spearhead’s experience.
“Dale’s got a lot of energy and sometimes that gets me fired up,” he says. “It’s nice when Dale starts off bowling quickly, getting the speed above 140km/h ... I try to match it.”
In return, Steyn pays close attention to his former long-time Titans teammate’s progress on the field, often offering words of encouragement.
“What works for me might not work for Morné, because he’s a completely different bowler,” says Steyn, “but it wouldn’t help if I didn’t give him some advice on what I thought the batter was going to do.”
It is a common theory that fast bowlers, unlike spinners and batsmen, are their peak between 23 and 29 years of age.At 27 Morkel is reaching the peak of his career.
Watching him in the ODI series, it could just be that he is ready to permanently transfer his limited-overs success to the Test arena.
If that is to be, then the Black Caps should be forewarned. – Saturday Star