Cape Town – The painstaking return to full fitness and renewed contention for a Proteas place of Morne Morkel appears back on track.
The lanky fast bowler has had a summer of immense frustration so far, with comeback plans from a back injury stalling badly on a couple of occasions.
It has led to inevitable speculation that, at 32, his international career may be in peril after at least a decade of service to South Africa across the formats.
Morkel has played only four cricket matches since July last year – a single Sunfoil Series match for the Titans plus three low-key warm-up fixtures during the Proteas’ Test tour of Australia.
But national team media manager Lerato Malekutu offered some rather more hopeful news to Sport24 on Tuesday: “Morne is in the final phase of rehab … there are two more weeks to go.
“The plan is for him to be available for some Momentum One-Day Cup matches for the Titans, which will effectively serve as a fitness test for the New Zealand tour – the Test series portion by then, obviously.”
The Proteas start the five-match one-day international series against the Black Caps at Hamilton on February 19, which is too early for Morkel to play any part in that challenge.
But it seems he will quickly get back into bowling mode locally; the Titans open their competition account against the Dolphins at SuperSport Park on February 17, and then play the Cape Cobras at Newlands on February 24.
Morkel may then, if the signs are suitably encouraging, be considered by the selectors for the three-Test series, which begins in “deep south” Dunedin on March 8.
That could also serve as a stepping stone to his participation in the ICC Champions Trophy in England and Wales during June.
With his 108-cap wealth of ODI experience, Morkel could still be an important element of the Proteas’ arsenal at that event, given that similarly battle-wise customers like Dale Steyn (gradual recovery from shoulder surgery) and Kyle Abbott (Kolpak-deal departure) will be absentees.
The current SA one-day squad is characterised by the presence of a handful of seam-bowling all-rounders, although some like Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius remain notably raw and unproven at the highest level.
During SuperSport commentary on the first ODI of the current series against Sri Lanka in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, former Proteas coach Eric Simons cautioned that despite their potential, Phehlukwayo, Wayne Parnell and Chris Morris – all of whom played that day – were “too alike”.
He said the side missed the genuine pace, experience and aggression of men like Steyn and Morkel.
Shaun Pollock, meanwhile, said he felt the seam attack seemed “just a bit thin for consistency”, implying that he, too, would be favourably disposed toward Morkel clawing his way back into the mix as more of a specialist fast bowler.
The beanpole strike bowler is not the easiest or most obvious customer to brazenly two-step down the track to, given the dangerous bounce he is capable of extracting, and he has a good mix of skills in limited-overs cricket these days.
Morkel sports 181 ODI scalps at an average of 24.60, and economy rate just inside five runs to the over which is not something any of the all-rounders can yet boast.
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