Cricket

T20: Big night for Roelof, Albie

2014-02-05 12:46
Albie Morkel (AP)

Cape Town – Two largely forgotten but often crowd-pleasing Proteas players are running out of time in a long-shot bid to sneak back into the national team’s plans for the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh next month.

Debatably, neither of left-arm spinner Roelof van der Merwe or all-rounder Albie Morkel earned a place in the 30-strong provisional list of players named a few weeks ago ahead of the event (the list must eventually be culled to 15 for the tournament itself).

It just suggests that, at least as things stand, they have been near-permanently eliminated from the national selectors’ thinking.

Yet this stalwart pair have remained important elements of the Titans’ advance to the high-stakes semi-final of the RAM SLAM T20 Challenge against the Dolphins at Kingsmead on Wednesday (18:00): the winners not only progress to Sunday’s final against the Cape Cobras at Newlands, but will also be guaranteed a place in the lucrative international-flavoured Champions League.

Between them, Van der Merwe (every game) and Morkel have featured together in all but one of the Centurion-based franchise’s 10 round-robin fixtures.

The globe-trotting, left-handed “finisher” Morkel, who strikes the ball as far as anybody on the planet in the format when he is on song, is one of two Titans batsmen – the other is Farhaan Behardien – to have gone past 200 runs: he has registered 201 thus far at a healthy T20 average of 33.

Wickets have admittedly been harder to come by (his bowling is generally considered his weaker suit) although he has also not been slapped about too heavily as his economy rate is inside seven runs to the over.

That is an area where he has secured a big edge thus far on all-rounder team-mate David Wiese, who did crack the provisional Proteas 30 revealed around Christmas, but is labouring domestically this T20 season on both the batting and bowling fronts (he has been carted around at more than 10 to the over).

The 32-year-old Morkel may not have age especially on his side, but he is a hard-nosed veteran of 100 Proteas caps across the ODI and T20 codes, and there are still many people who believe his potentially match-tilting talents are being unfairly overlooked by his country.

Van der Merwe, meanwhile, is in roughly the same boat for feeling out of favour; he has had a longer international absence than Morkel, considering that his last of 13 T20 caps came in May 2010 against West Indies in Antigua.

Clearly a few weeks ago he was considered behind at least two other left-arm spinners, Robin Peterson and Aaron Phangiso, in the pecking order for the next global get-together because both cracked the initial list ahead of him.

Yet Van der Merwe’s bowling stats in T20 internationals stand up quite well, despite gathering “dust” for some time: 14 wickets at 21.78, and economy of 6.93.

It may also be recalled that he had an excellent World T20 in England 2009, his consistency playing a key part in the Proteas storming to the semis, where they came a knockout cropper (what’s new?) to Pakistan.

The feisty, 29-year-old competitor they call the “Bulldog” has gone wicketless in the Titans’ last three matches but he continues to generally bowl well in the lotto-like format, is still travelling at fewer than seven runs to the over and has also seen a couple of catches go down off his bowling – sometimes to his animated frustration.

He remains a hard-hitting batting factor, too, even if sometimes a little too inclined toward unsubtle slogging or excessive unorthodoxy which can cause his downfall, but his up-and-at-‘em character remains a device likely to appeal to whoever is captaining him plus the colleagues around him.

Their chances of wooing Andrew Hudson and company at this eleventh-hour stage probably remain slim, but if Van der Merwe and/or Morkel come explosively to the fore in what remains of the knockout phase for the Titans, you just never know ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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