TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
MORNE Morkel makes no sense. He misses the Mohali test with a quadriceps injury and bowls seven indifferent overs for no reward on a greenish pitch in Bangalore. So far, not so good.
But, in Nagpur on Wednesday, with Dale Steyn and his groin strain unable to help fight the good fight from the dressingroom and Vernon Philander and his torn ankle ligaments keeping an eye on proceedings from a couch in Cape Town, on the most spin silly surface yet seen in the series, against some of the most cocky batsmen in all of cricket who know they have the crowd and the conditions on their side, Morkel roars in like an over-caffeinated fighter pilot.
He realises the length he bowls before lunch is too short. So he pitches it up and the magic happens – he finds reverse swing, he moves the ball away from the batsman, he brings it back in. He bowls with subtlety and with sense; magnificently and to a plan.
He takes two wickets for no runs in the space of seven balls in his return of 3/35 – the best performance by a SA bowler of any stripe on the day, and the best by any of their quicks thus far in this series.
Even India’s batting coach, Sanjay Bangar, can’t fail to notice. “It was a really smart adjustment by Morne Morkel,” Bangar allows himself to say after the close.
And then – then! – Morkel sends down the first delivery of his 17th over and wobbles about the pitch as uncertainly as he might do in his Zimmer frame 40 years from now. Gingerly, he leaves the field in the company of Brandon Jackson, SA’s physio.
What the hell, Mr Morkel?
South Africans marvel at the fact that, despite your ability to look a gift giraffe in the mouth, you are not injured nearly as often as fast bowlers who are built on a more human scale.
Pretoria will one day make peace with the fact that you married, of all people, an Australian – and that she has put you onto, of all things, green smoothies.
Those who have met you will know that not all fast bowlers are as dim as they are uncouth, that despite significant evidence to the contrary some of them are decent, intelligent types able to separate the person from the persona.
These are all good things, and thank you for them.
But this is too much. This is what happens when we dare believe that nice guys don’t finish last. Perhaps that should be revised to nice guys don’t even finish the day’s play.
This is what South Africans get for finding the faith to hope that all is not as bad as it seems: another crocked fast bowler.
Steady. It’s only cramp, the press are informed.
Cramp? After all that? What the hell, Mr Morkel?