Johannesburg – New Zealand arrive here on Friday sans their best batsman, bowler and with doubts about the player they’ve appointed captain, but that will in no way lead to complacency setting in among the South African team they will face in the next few weeks.
It may be the diplomatic thing to do – talk up the opposition – but South Africa have no right to any complacency, they have too much to prove and too many goals to achieve in the coming weeks.
Morné Morkel was at his diplomatic best on Wednesday talking up the fighting qualities of the “Black Caps” and how the drama that unfolded in the last week which led to Ross Taylor’s withdrawal from the touring party, may actually galvanise them for their five-week tour here.
Morkel played alongside Taylor for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League, where he was exposed to the scrapping qualities for which the New Zealanders are famous. “When they go on the field their blood really starts boiling, because of their competitive nature. We know from their rugby, they don’t take a backward step.”
Still, their playing resources for their trip here – which includes three T20 Internationals, two Tests and three One-Day Internationals – look thin. Besides Taylor, they’re also missing left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori while Jesse Ryder is still not ready to return to international cricket despite dominating New Zealand’s domestic scene this season. Brendon McCullum, who was appointed captain, is largely untested as a leader and certainly his form with the bat is a worry for the Kiwis.
South Africa’s concerns will be about themselves, however. Morkel outlined the importance of holding on to their No1 ranking, dominating across all three formats and winning on home soil as being important goals that the side will strive for this season.
“It’s a tough one to work out,” he said about South Africa’s relatively modest record in Test series on home soil. They’ve won just one of their last five series in South Africa – defeating Sri Lanka last summer – while drawing with Australia, India and England and also losing a three-match series against the Australians in 2009. “We haven’t played our best cricket at home, and that’s an important area for us to focus on, to get some series wins under our belt here.”
The national selectors will name the various squads for the series against New Zealand this morning, and with the Tests in mind, Morkel says he wants to see the lead South Africa have atop the rankings stretched some more.
“For all the hard work we’ve put in to get to No1, now it’s important that we stay there for a long time and create some sort of legacy. It must not just be a one season thing, we want to stretch that gap and stay there for a few years.”
With so much being made about the conditioning of fast bowlers, particularly in Australia, Morkel says the key to South Africa’s success is that he, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander have been on the park and largely remained injury free. “There are no injuries at the moment, which is great, Dale and I have played the last 27 Tests together, uninterrupted, which says a lot for the work that we do with our physio Rob [Walter].”
Like all bowlers, Morkel would like to take more wickets – he’s picked up 38 in 10 Tests this year at an average of 30.28, but with Steyn (39 in 10) and Philander (43 in nine) around, his stats may not quite be as sexy as he’d like.
“I think I’ve been bowling well for the last few years. It may not show in the wickets column, but there are different roles to play. I don’t care who’s taking the wickets as long as we get the 20 wickets, to win the Test, because that, obviously, is the most important thing.” – The Star