TELFORD VICE, Auckland
THE Indian Premier League (IPL) is blamed for biff-bang-boom batting, dirtying cricket with cash, fostering the fetid conditions for match-fixing to flower, and encouraging some of the cheesiest cheerleading known to sport.
Not often is it held up as a force for good. But, according to AB de Villiers, the IPL has done wonders for Morne Morkel.
“I think the fact that he was part of the Kolkata team winning that trophy (last year) played a big part in his career,” De Villiers said. “You could just see a lot of belief in his eyes. He talks with confidence, a lot of confidence, and he’s taken up a lot of responsibility in the bowling unit.
“It’s not only Dale (Steyn) as the leader, it’s Morne as well. He’s definitely one of our leaders and our captains in the bowling unit.
“He’s bolstered his performance, but it’s not just about that – he walks the talk, he’s very confident, and I don’t think you’ve always seen that in his career.
“The fact that he’s lifted a trophy has played a big part in him believing that he can play a big role in teams winning cups.”
As fast bowlers go, Morkel is among the nicest in the game. Unlike Steyn, whose sharp, aggressive edge is never more than a few words or a even gesture away, Morkel is a great dane puppy of a paceman; an apparently loosely connected gangle of arms and legs that somehow sorts itself out well enough to bowl six world class deliveries consecutively, the odd costly no-ball notwithstanding.
He has opened the batting in a test match. He has married an Australian vegan. He drinks green smoothies, and appears to like them. He looms over reporters’ shoulders to see if he features in the stories they are writing.
Morkel is as far removed from the stereotypically nasty, brutish and tall fast bowler as Table Mountain is from a Joburg freeway.
But, in last year’s IPL, he counted the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Glenn Maxwell, Corey Anderson and David Warner among the dozen he took in the tournament.
In the test series against West Indies this summer, Morkel led the averages and matched Steyn as the leading wicket-taker with 13 scalps.
Until Wednesday, when Imran Tahir took 4/26 in the World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka in Sydney, Morkel was SA’s most successful bowler in the tournament.
How Morkel has taken his wickets is as important than the fact that he has taken them. Previously susceptible to losing his rhythm and with it his action and his consistency, he has found a way to maintain the vital tension between technique and temperament.
At 1.96 metres tall, he is likely to extract more bounce than others on most surfaces. But bounce is just one element in the equation that adds up to matchwinning bowling. In the past year, Morkel has found the accuracy and the aggressive intent he needed to make the most of his talent.
If the IPL can help a player – and a bowler, no less – bring his game come together so effectively it is not the monster it is thought to be.