Sri Lanka in SA
Morkel misses the mark again
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Morne Morkel (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Morne Morkel is now only a few days short of boasting five completed years in the Test arena... yet still looking too much at times like the nervy rookie finding his way.Scorecard after Day 1
Video highlights: SA v Sri Lanka, 1st Test Day 1
It was the Boxing Day encounter against India at Kingsmead in 2006 when the beanpole paceman made his first appearance for the Proteas in the five-day format.
But if you’d watched him in action at Centurion on Thursday, day one of the first Test against Sri Lanka, you might have been forgiven for wondering whether he wasn’t some raw debutant - and that despite it actually being the now 27-year-old’s 34th appearance for his country.
Morkel brings some marvellous attributes - many of them physical, of course - to the party. We all know that; we have seen those assets wreak occasional havoc for the Proteas’ cause.
I use the word “occasional” deliberately and unreservedly, however, because he only served notice again on an otherwise lopsided day’s play (all favouring South Africa) at his familiar stomping ground of SuperSport Park that he remains a frustratingly unfinished article in several respects.
While some way short of an outright mamba, the pitch was always a “bowl first” one, as had been expected in the often wet lead-up to the match - and Graeme Smith
duly installed the Lankans as his recent good fortune with the coin continued.
The Proteas’ trio of frontline seamers seemed very good bets to cash in ... and Vernon Philander
and Dale Steyn
certainly did against opponents whose traditional technical and mental frailties on bouncy surfaces were plainly evident once more, with two or three exceptions.
They were skittled for 180 by 15:07 and from two balls short of 48 overs, and then Smith and Jacques Rudolph
laid excellent South African foundations in reply, even if the latter had a few close shaves initially and was perhaps impeded by the little-finger injury he suffered in the field.
Philander, fast becoming the revelation of the summer, simply carried on where he had left off against Australia, getting in beautifully tight to the stumps on delivery and finding the correct business length with ever-increasing regularity.
The Cape Cobras man doesn’t have any special aspirations in speed-gun terms, happy to beaver away around the 132km/h mark, but there’s unceasing purpose and aggression to his body language.
He is finding Test cricket astonishingly easy so far: Philander picked up his third five-wicket haul in as many Tests
, and currently sports 19 wickets at a dizzy average of 13.05.
Meanwhile the established main string to the Proteas’ attacking bow, Steyn, cranked up his pace and efficiency after a surprisingly curtailed first session of personal activity to play a big role in the demolition of the Sri Lankan tail, just as he was beginning to threaten 150km/h territory.
He is so accomplished a competitor that a “four-for” for the Phalaborwa Express can pretty much be considered just another trusty old day at the office.
Which brings us back to Morkel, whose stats of 10-1-48-0 rather stood out like the proverbial sore thumb under the circumstances.
And that after a dream start for a supposed head-hunter - smashing into the side of Tharanga Paranavitana’s helmet with his very first ball after entering the fray as first change bowler.
But instead of building on that useful little psychological event, Morkel seemed to unravel progressively the longer he was employed.
Clearly troubled by run-up issues, the Titans player consequently couldn’t generate fieriest pace and was also guilty of over-stepping on a few occasions - once to his detriment as he thought he’d had Thilan Samaraweera caught at third slip but the batsman was called back after “foot fault” review by the third umpire.
The situation only worsened as Angelo Mathews got stuck into a pair of overs where Morkel’s radar went violently AWOL - not the first time this phenomenon has stalked him.
He was quickly and unceremoniously removed from bowling duty and by the time the ropey Lankan innings had ended his Test average had swelled to a fraction above the 30-mark (30.23).
I am among those who still suspect that the big fellow - a determined student of the game, which helps - will, eventually, bury the bogey of inconsistency, but for the time being he continues to frustrate those who insist “something really big” must be around the corner for him.
It is becoming a bit of a long bend, mind you ... only four five-wicket Test hauls thus far and never more than seven wickets in a solitary game suggests a tenacious cycle of relative under-achievement, doesn’t it?
In his defence, this stop-start season in scheduling terms has been especially unkind to bowlers like Morkel, desperately yearning the luxury of long and regular spells of first-class activity.
He has not played any cricket at all since the Aussie series, and before that his last SuperSport Series outing came against the
Dolphins in Pietermaritzburg as far back as October 6-9.
Things can only get better for the gentle giant in the Sri Lankan second knock.