TELFORD VICE in Wellington
FIRST green smoothies. Now Pilates. One of these days Morne Morkel won’t yell “Howzat!” when he launches into an appeal. Instead, he’ll say, with serenity and respect for the universe, “Like, shoo-waa, bru …”
The fast bowler, who claimed before the 2015 World Cup that he felt “a lot more energy when I bowl” after discovering a liking for liquidised raw vegetables, revealed on Monday that he had latched onto the programme of strength and mobility exercises invented early last century by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates.
The discipline has since become trendy among the image conscious and with new mothers trying to strengthen their cores.
But, for Morkel, who has been told by some medical experts that he should stop playing the longest format, Pilates has been an important part of his journey back to health.
Because of a bulging disc in his spine, Morkel didn’t play a test from January 2016 until Wednesday – when he featured in South Africa’s attack for the drawn first match of their series against New Zealand at University Oval in Dunedin.
“I did a lot of Pilates, a lot of work – I had a fantastic team in Cape Town,” Morkel said in Wellington, where the second test starts on Thursday.
He will be particularly keen to mark out a run-up at the Basin Reserve, where he took a career-best 6/23 in the second innings of the drawn March 2012 test.
Morkel said getting his mojo back had been arduous and complex.
“I worked from the crease backwards, getting certain muscles to switch on and switch off at certain times.
“I had a massive bulge at the top of my core, which led to spasms and all those sorts of things.
“I needed to find a way to relax my upper core so my lower core could work.
“It’s a complicated thing to explain.”
But the results were plain to see in New Zealand’s only innings in Dunedin, where Morkel hit 140 kilometres per hour with his second delivery and bowled with purpose and controlled aggression for his return of 2/62 from 24 overs.
He admitted to feeling a range of uncertainties before the match.
“In the back of my mind it was going to be a real test going for more 20 overs with the ball and 100 overs in the field.
“One of my biggest worries was that I knew it was going to be cold in Dunedin – will my muscles recover, and everything?
“There were a lot of ifs and buts, and luckily I can put those things to rest now and just focus on cricket.
“All those demons that were in my mind, I managed to control them and get through it.”
That’s a long way from where Morkel was when “I couldn’t get out of bed – I was really like an old man, making my way to a painkiller”.
He was heartened that, after Dunedin, he has felt nothing beyond normal stiffness.
Had he planned to try and perform at his peak from so early in the match?
“Leading into the test I was thinking what sort of percentage I must go at.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I am just going to try and cruise through this, am I going to be consistent in my areas?’.
“But I think as soon as I crossed the line, the adrenaline and the match intensity took over and you just play the situation.”
Even though he is back in the mix, Morkel knew his body wasn’t out of the woods.
“My lower core was so weak and I’ve played with the discomfort for quite a while, and in a way I needed to rewire my body and learn new moves,” he said.
“I had so many bad movements, and that created tension and inflammation and all those sorts of things with my disc.
“That was why the recovery took so long – I needed to get my movements right.
“I need to take a lot of responsibility now, to look after my body.
“I can’t take any shortcuts with my training and my gym work.
“I need to manage my workload outside the South African season and be clever with that.”
That meant giving the Indian Premier League (IPL) a skip this year.
“Because I haven’t played any cricket for South Africa for so long, if I put my name in the IPL auction, it would be frowned upon.
“The important thing was to get myself fit for South Africa and to play well for South Africa.”
All together now: like, shoo-waa, bru …