Albie Morkel’s worth as a Twenty20 cricketer in Indian conditions over the last few season has been well established through his association with Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League. But little would he have known at the end of IPL 2015 that he would be back in the country much earlier than expected.
Having given up his international aspirations long back, no one was more amused than Morkel himself to be declared man of the match in South Africa’s series-clinching six-wicket win in the second T20 International at the Barabati Stadium on Monday (October 5).
Morkel landed in India on Friday evening as a late replacement for David Wiese, who fractured his hand during a warm-up match at home. And, on his international comeback after more than a year and half, Morkel, 34, produced career-best figures of 3 for 12 and jumped the queue by a few places to be in the race for a spot in the team for the 2016 World T20 in India in March and April.
“It was awesome. Even two weeks ago, I didn’t know what was happening on this tour. A freak accident to David Wiese gave me this opportunity. The boys welcomed me into the side very quickly,” Morkel said after his 50th T20I appearance. “It’s very satisfying. I have put in a lot of effort in the last season with Titans, my state side, without any visions of playing for South Africa.
“I am fortunate that I got the man of the match award on my comeback game, and it is something I will remember forever,” he added. “I am certainly not going to make any statement saying I should be in the team.”
A fresh pitch in Cuttack offering some bounce, and India’s score of 41 for 2 when he was introduced into the attack in the seventh over, helped Morkel find rhythm instantly. He stuck to a line of attack on and outside off, and drew the batsmen forward consistently.
Rohit Sharma was run out in Morkel’s first over, after which Faf du Plessis reserved him for the second half of the innings, and the results were immediate.
In the 12th over, he benefitted from Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s lazy footwork, and then did not take long to wipe up the tail.
Morkel felt that his success stemmed from the collective effort of the bowling group, as they applied pressure on the Indian batting by drying up the runs.
“The pitch suited our bowling attack nicely,” he said. “There was a lot of bounce, uneven bounce actually. (It is) something our bowlers as a unit really exploited and we had India under the pump.”
South Africa bowled a total of 50 dot balls in India’s innings and Kagiso Rabada, who hit 150kmph on the speed gun, left a significant mark with figures of 4-0-18-1. Morkel hailed the young prospect.
“I had never played with Rabada before today. I could honestly say that in my 16-year first-class career, I have not seen anyone like him at the age of 19,” Morkel said. “He is going to be a fantastic prospect for South Africa and win many games. He is one of those guys with special talent. You can’t coach what he has got.”
As much as it was a triumph for the bowlers in India, the manner in which du Plessis handled his resources was also eye-catching. In the first T20I in Dharamsala, he pulled back things towards the death overs. In Cuttack, he introduced Imran Tahir’s legspin in the second over, and used four different bowlers for the first four overs.
“I thought of using Immy upfront. He hadn’t bowled in the Power Play, but I thought (about) changing things up, trying to be unpredictable so that the batsmen can’t predict what they want to do,” du Plessis said. “There was great variation in the first six overs, and then we got wickets.”
Du Plessis minced no words as he spoke of the significance of this series win in the larger scheme of things.
“The way you start when you come to India is extremely important. Starting with a couple of losses, it is hard to put yourself back at the top,” du Plessis said. “To beat India 2-0 in India is a huge achievement and we are truly proud of that. It was important for us because we are the team that is starting the tour.”
Du Plessis, who captained South Africa in T20Is for the first time in 2012 and has a success rate of 59.09%, credited Dhoni and the core group at Chennai for grooming him as a leader, but felt it was important to have one’s own style to stand the test of time.
“There must be four-five captains in one team – Brendon (McCullum), Stephen (Fleming), (Dwayne) Bravo, myself. To have that brains trust, I am extremely lucky to be in that great position. Obviously MS leads that team, but we all give our inputs,” he said. “He has got a calm demeanour on the field, has a lot of respect from his team, and has got a good cricket brain. Put all those things together, and there is a lot to learn from him. Graeme Smith is another guy I took a lot of learning from.
“You see what works for them, but the more important thing is you don’t copy other leaders and try to be yourself,” he went on. “You try to learn from your mistakes, and then you come to a stage in your career where you have your own identity.”
Leading his team to a series win in India is a step in that direction for du Plessis.