England in SA
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Morkel, Harro lift SA mood
Cape Town – Amidst a growing sense of unease over South Africa’s Test bowling armoury against England this summer, Morne Morkel’s consistency in the SuperSport Series thus far provides partial relief from the gloom.
Is the 25-year-old finally showing the maturity and composure required to make him a genuine handful at Test level?
Certainly his efforts in the first half of the domestic four-day competition, which have been instrumental in the Titans soaring to a strong lead at the top of the six-team table, suggest he is making a big effort to bury the perception of him as an enigmatic bowler whose radar has had a tendency to go markedly wonky at times.
Lanky Morkel shares top wicket-taking honours (18) in the SuperSport Series with two other players at present – team-mate Paul Harris and gritty Dolphins seamer Johann Louw.
Both Morkel and left-arm spinner Harris are expected to feature in the Proteas line-up for the first Test starting at SuperSport Park, their home ground, less than a month from now on December 16.
So their franchise form is a source of comfort as some experts fear the South African bowling will be too dependent on ace spearhead Dale Steyn – still sitting atop the ICC Test bowling rankings and by far the likeliest source of “five fors” and more in the Proteas’ attack.
Pace great Allan Donald suggested on Cricinfo this week that the Proteas attack “is a worry for (coach) Mickey Arthur”.
Donald was quoted as saying: “Mickey is really concerned they won’t take 20 wickets (and) I think the SA attack is a bit weaker than England’s.
“The England attack is a nose in front with tall bowlers, guys who can make the ball talk, guys who bowl heavy lengths.”
A former England bowling coach and legendary South African head-hunter, Donald was probably referring primarily to the threat posed by beanpoles James Anderson and Stuart Broad, in particular, assuming that the latter overcomes early tour injury concerns.
Morkel’s 18 first-class scalps this summer come at a promising average of 21.55 – he is also “travelling” at fewer than three runs to the over and that is an equally satisfying sign.
The global jury remains out on Morkel’s Test ability: in 17 appearances thus far he has blown decidedly hot and cold with 55 wickets at 34.90 and just one five-wicket haul.
Yet there is no doubt that, if he is in the groove, his ability to generate spiteful bounce can be a very handy South African device.
Nor should anyone panic too much about the relative pounding he took in the SA ‘A’ 50-overs defeat to England on Tuesday – the five-day arena is an entirely different beast where there is more leeway to leak runs as long as you are doing your “strike” job satisfactorily.
Harris’s 2009/10 SuperSport Series figures are incredibly similar to Morkel’s: his 18 poles are at 21.16, and he already boasts a match haul of nine for 80, which is exactly what you hope for from time to time for your frontline slow bowler.
But veteran Makhaya Ntini’s first-class performances for the Warriors must be a source of mounting concern for the Proteas.
The 32-year-old paceman has not managed more than one wicket in an innings in four full SuperSport Series matches and has, in fact, claimed a mere three wickets from 104 overs of personal toil at an unflattering average of 83.
With the Warriors’ next two four-day matches scheduled for the usually benign pitches at East London (against the Eagles) and Paarl (Cape Cobras), time is running out for Ntini to pick up confidence via domestic success in the wickets column.
Whatever happens in those fixtures, he is almost certainly a shoe-in for the South African side for the Test at Centurion from December 16 – it will be the emotional occasion of his 100th appearance at that level, and that ought to be powerful spur for the Mdingi Express.
Elsewhere on the domestic scene, there is not as much to get enthusiastic about, bowling-wise, as Mike Procter and his fellow-national selectors might like.
Willing journeyman Louw’s 18 victims come at an eye-opening average of 16.16 although, at 30, he is not exactly in the “bright prospect” category. (Not that his success should be summarily ignored?)
The 24-year-old Rusty Theron, already capped for SA ‘A’, is leading Warriors wicket-taker (13 at 19.84) although an extra half-yard of pace might make him a more attractive Test candidate than he arguably is presently.
And the Cobras’ bottom-of-table woes are highlighted by the fact that their leading scalp-hunter, by some distance, is batsman and part-time leg-spinner Alistair Gray (13 wickets).
Another veteran, left-armer Cliffie Deacon, has the most Lions wickets (10) while Dillon du Preez (7) tops the Eagles’ pops.