TELFORD VICE, Dunedin
YOU could see it in Morne Morkel’s assurance as he walked out to the middle at University Oval in Dunedin on Monday, and Faf du Plessis confirmed it on Tuesday.
“Morne’s back into the mix,” Du Plessis said.
That means South Africa will let fly with Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj in the first test against New Zealand on Wednesday.
Their batting line-up remains unchanged.
Morkel has been plagued by a lingering back injury and played his last test against England in January.
Since then, and besides T20 stints in India and the Caribbean, he has played only six matches – and only one of those was a first-class game.
But South Africa were willing to gamble on the beanpole bazooka coming good in Dunedin.
“If he’s not going to be able to play now then we’ll never know if we don’t take that chance,” Du Plessis said.
“I’ve said to him over the last six months, every time that’s he’s bowled in the nets, it felt to me like he was bowling at his best. And I’m talking about all the times I’ve faced him.
“It’s an opportunity we have to take and see where Morne is with his back.
“All the reports say it’s 100% fine, all the tests they’ve done.
“He’s bowled a lot of overs and he seems pretty confident.
“He’s going to gave to step out and we’ll see what he’s got for us.”
New Zealand won’t name their team before the toss, but at least three of their likely top five – openers Tom Latham and Jeet Raval and No. 5 Henry Nicholls – bat left-handed.
Du Plessis said that was a key factor in Morkel winning selection ahead of Duanne Olivier, who took match figures of 5/57 on debut in South Africa’s most recent test, against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers in January
“It’s the angle that the ball comes out of his hand,” Du Plessis said.
“It’s almost pointing to (the left-hander’s) first slip so it always goes into right-handers and away from left-handers, and bounce is a huge factor.
“He’s terrible (for right-handers) to face in the nets because you’re always feel like you’re going to get hit in the ribs.
“The opposite applies to lefties – it goes away, and that angle he can create from around the wicket to get the ball to come in and move away is extremely hard to face.
“He’s fresh, he’s had a long time away from the game and he’s hungry.”
Whether Morkel gets the chance to sate himself immediately on Wednesday depends on the toss.
Unlike in most countries, where captains who call correctly tend to bat first, in the last 22 tests in New Zealand they have opted to field.
Du Plessis said he would follow that trend: “That tells a pretty good story; you’d have to pretty brave to go against that.”
But there would seem to be little evidence that the tactic works.
Teams who fielded first in those 22 tests have won eight and lost seven with the other seven drawn.
The difference between batting and fielding first, then, has been close to negligible.
On current form, Kane Williamson won’t have to think about what he will do if he wins the toss.
“I don’t get ahead of myself with silly ideas like that,” the home side’s captain said on Tuesday.
New Zealand have won the toss 17 times in matches across all formats since the start of 2016, and four times this year.
How many have they lost in that time?
Thirty-five, nine of them in 2017.