Morne revels in CWC occasion
Nagpur - It's been a heck of a ride for South African wicketkeeper batsman Morne van Wyk, culminating last weekend in the gut-wrenching, narrow World Cup defeat to England.
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But it is a measure of the man's maturity and perspective that Van Wyk was able to say on Tuesday that he was just delighted to have been part of the occasion.
"We definitely got the worst of the pitch, and it's tough to deal with a pitch that is up-and-down, two-paced and offering inconsistent turn all at the same time! You need a bit of luck, and there were stages in that match when the luck didn't run for us.
"But the whole experience was great for me, personally, to be in battle like that, it was such an occasion. I'm doing what I love, and I'm thankful for that.
"Even that sort of tough situation on Sunday, I get to experience batting for my country, I realise it's a gift that I get to do that.
"I gave everything to win on Sunday, and I would take out an extra bond on the house to experience that again, but it's not the most important thing in life," Van Wyk said on Tuesday in Nagpur.
While the 31-year-old may yet have to prove he is an authentic international-class wicketkeeper/batsman, he has made a solid start to his career, averaging 31 in 10 ODI innings with three half-centuries.
That he has been a performer of genuine class for a long period of time in domestic cricket, and that those 10 appearances have been spread over eight years suggests his record will be even better if he is given a decent run.
His debut in July 2003 was extraordinary - being thrown into batting number three in a Lord's final against England with just half-an-hour's warning. His 17 was the third-highest score as South Africa were bowled out for 107 and lost by seven wickets in 20.2 overs.
"I found out I was playing half-an-hour before! I've been dealt some harsh cards, but if you tell me I'm playing one minute before the game, it will still be an honour. I have no regrets, those sort of things breed character," Van Wyk says with typical equanimity.
He was then left out of the team for four years, before making an excellent comeback in Belfast in 2007, scoring 52 against Ireland and 44 and 82 against India.
But successive ducks in the last match of that series against India and against New Zealand in November in Durban saw him dropped again.
Those Belfast matches were as a replacement for the injured Graeme Smith, and it would be another injury to the South African captain this year that paved the way for Van Wyk's return and his late inclusion in the World Cup squad.
Van Wyk was rushed into the side for a Pro20 match against India in Durban, and a quickfire 67 off 39 balls, followed by a fine 56 in the Centurion ODI, saw him book his passage to India.
"I am who I am because of what has happened to me in the past. Obviously I would write my own story differently, we all want to play in everything, conquer everything, win every game, but my book isn't finished yet," Van Wyk says.
The Free State man clearly has a very good temperament, and this stretches to trusting his skills; he will never be in the MCC Coaching Manual either for his wicketkeeping or his baseball slugger-like stance at the crease.
Van Wyk revealed on Tuesday that taking guard with a high backlift had enabled him to score much more quickly than in the past.
"It was during the Champions League for the Eagles here in India in 2009, and we had a lot of time between games so I kept myself busy watching great timers of the ball like Adam Gilchrist on TV.
I was the sort of player who would be keeping the ball more on the carpet, but Gilchrist would be hitting over the top all the time. I watched what they did and I picked up that they kept their hands high.
"So when we got home, I told our Eagles assistant coach, Adri Swanepoel, that I wanted to try out this new high backlift. It made my balance feel good, being in a more upright position. The big thing was getting the shoulder-turn going. Before I used to hit mostly towards midwicket, maybe straight, but it opened up whole new scoring areas for me, then I was hitting over cover and mid-off."
The technical change showed its value as Van Wyk scored a career-best, record-breaking 168 not out the next weekend against the Highveld Lions in an MTN40 game.
Van Wyk's story once again shows that most batsmen only really begin to know their game in their 30s.
"I fell into the trap of trying to look like other guys, like Boeta Dippenaar who always looked so good at the crease. I thought I needed to play like him and I just ended up pretty ugly and ineffective.
"I have to play my way, using my wrists and trusting my hand-eye co-ordination. I can't just use my top-hand like some coaches say, I need to use my bottom hand as well.
"I play in a certain way that works for me and I need to trust my skill levels. Since I started using the high backlift, I'm like a kid in a candy store, there are so many different shots I can play, I'm really enjoying it and I can express myself more," Van Wyk says.
Having been married for nearly 10 years and having three children, the Grey College product is also something of an authority on how one's personal life can positively impact one's game.
"I'm a completely different person now to how I was eight years ago when I made my debut. I'm glad I'm getting this opportunity now, because I think the whole package I bring is better. In terms of skills, maturity and leadership, I bring a lot more to the party than I did then. I feel prepared for this chance because I've had a dozen years of cricket experience.
"Being married with children, I can also go back to a normal life. I have the best wife [Carnien] in the world and I still have to do things like the dishes, the garbage, clearing the dog poo off the lawn and nappies. It helps me to stay grounded," Van Wyk explains.
Such mundane tasks will be out of his mind on Saturday when the exciting prospect of taking on India at home in a World Cup beckons. Van Wyk reckons the Nagpur pitch should be excellent for batting, unlike the extremely tough Chennai surface.
"I'd be surprised if we had the same sort of pitch against India. All the pitches they've played on have been very good for batting, I think because they make sure an extra five or 10% goes into everything done for the home side.
"From what I hear, Nagpur is a very nice ground with a good pitch, so the scoring should be high. They'll want the best conditions for a spectacle when India plays, so I'm expecting another 650-700 game," Van Wyk said.