JOHANNESBURG - Albie Morkel didn’t mean to sound like an old fogy. He said as much at SuperSport Park this week after wrapping up training with the Titans.
Things weren’t necessarily better in his day, starting out as a professional cricketer, but he did wonder about the mentality of young players entering the professional ranks.
“Young players these days get it too easy. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old guy, but that’s my personal opinion,” Morkel mused.
He is one of just six cricketers to have played 300 T20 matches, and at 36 he remains one of the most dangerous players in the sport’s shortest format. Morkel was reflecting on that part of his career while looking ahead to Friday night’s match at Willowmoore Park in Benoni, the ground where his professional career started under the tutelage of Ray Jennings, coach of Easterns from the late 1990s through to the mid-2000s.
“Ya, it was lekker hard there in the old days with Ray. We did things a little differently then. The foundations that were laid there, I believe in them even now,” said Morkel.
He feels that young players coming through the system have “things given to them on a plate.”
“Then they get into the real world of international cricket, then they’re not ready. I’m not saying a guy should be running laps around the field and be treated like a soldier, but there are certain things I believe in where young players can find value, by being exposed to a tougher environment,” Morkel said.
"Easterns at that stage, was 100 percent like that. Ray drilled us. I’m not saying it should be like that again, but there’s a fine balance between how you grow a guy, and getting guys into the system too easily."
Jennings was famously a hard taskmaster when coaching Easterns. The most well-known incident involved the sandwiches that were to accompany the tea being chucked out the window after a particularly bad session from his team. The hardened mentality that Jennings created however, proved incredibly valuable for the players who came through that system, especially those not blessed with great natural talent.
“I see it a lot nowadays, you get a young player under pressure, just a little bit, and he loses his wicket, he gets run out or something funny happens and that, to my mind, is that mentally he’s not strong enough,” Morkel said.
It’s one element of having the Proteas in the T20 Challenge that has proved extremely valuable. Titans coach Mark Boucher mentioned that the intensity with which the international players train was something of an eye-opener for the younger members of his squad. If that helps accelerate their development, then South African cricket will be the better for it.
But that’s just one way, another maybe to - metaphorically - clip young players about the ears. It worked for Morkel - 300 T20 games around the world is evidence of that.