TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE usual suspects lined up in Johannesburg on Wednesday when the squad SA will send to the World T20 in India next month was announced.
All except a tall fella with shoulders to match and more heart than most: Morne Morkel was left out despite his fine form this season.
In the 13 matches Morkel has played for SA since October, regardless of format, he has taken 35 wickets at an average of 26.51 and an economy rate of 3.21.
That’s his best economy rate in his 18 seasons as an international player, and never in a campaign in which he has played up to 13 games has he claimed more wickets.
Beyond the numbers, 2015-16 was the season in which Morkel stepped up as a senior player and led the attack in the ever more frequent enforced absence of Dale Steyn.
But Steyn remains SA’s go-to fast bowler and is in the WT20 squad.
“He’s going to be playing against Australia (in three T20s in March),” Faf du Plessis said on Wednesday of SA’s veteran spearhead, whom the captain implored to let loose at the Aussies at “150 (km/h), Dale; no pressure”.
Morkel has filled the void Steyn has left with committed performances, and with more consistency than earlier in his career.
Because of his latest injury – a shoulder problem – Steyn has not bowled a ball in anger since December 28 and was last seen in a SA T20 shirt on April 4, 2014.
That day, he went wicketless for 11.36 runs an over in his team’s six-wicket loss to India in Dhaka in the semi-finals of the previous World T20.
Morkel was not part of that squad. Nor was he in the side that won T20 series in Bangladesh and India in July and October.
But he has played in 17 matches in previous editions of the WT20, taking 24 wickets at 18.83 and conceding 7.2 runs an over.
Steyn’s record in his 21 WT20 games is 29 wickets at 17.62 and an economy rate of 6.63 – better figures than Morkel’s.
But is he worth the risk considering his recent injury record? It would appear so.
“Dale’s return is very good news,” selection convenor Linda Zondi was quoted as saying in a Cricket SA release on Wednesday. “He brings tremendous experience and leadership to the team, not to mention his skills as the outstanding fast bowler of his generation.”
The release said Steyn’s “inclusion is subject to his being passed fit” and SA have until March 8 to make changes. So there is hope for Morkel yet.
The casualties from the 16-man T20 squad that went to India are Marchant de Lange, Eddie Leie, Albie Morkel and Khaya Zondo. Their replacements in the 15 that will go to the WT20 are Aaron Phangiso, Rilee Rossouw and Steyn.
“We have a lot of experience in this group with 10 of the players having played in the last World T20,” Zondi said.
“The inclusion of Aaron means that we have all our spin bowling options covered with he, Imran Tahir and JP Duminy offering the different varieties. Left-arm spin bowlers tend to play big roles under Indian conditions.”
The WT20 squad will also do duty in the two T20s against England at Newlands and the Wanderers next Friday and Sunday, as well as against Australia.
SA WT20 squad:
Faf du Plessis (captain), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Chris Morris, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, David Wiese.
Mar 18: SA v England, Mumbai
Mar 20: SA v Qualifier, Mumbai
Mar 25: SA v West Indies, Nagpur
Mar 28: SA v Sri Lanka, Delhi
Mar 30: 1st semi-final, Delhi
Mar 31: 2nd semi-final, Mumbai
April 3: Final, Kolkata