Cape Town – Picking up form at a rate of knots after his long layoff, it should be a relative formality for Proteas strike bowler Morne Morkel to grab a solitary wicket in the decisive third Test against New Zealand at Hamilton from Saturday.
In doing so, he will advance to 250 Test victims and simultaneously turn an exclusive club of five South Africans into six.
The elite – those compatriots who boast 250 scalps or more – currently comprises, in descending order, Shaun Pollock (421), Dale Steyn (417), Makhaya Ntini (390), Allan Donald (330) and Jacques Kallis (291).
Morkel stands tantalisingly on 249 wickets after picking up match figures of 5/132 in the second-Test triumph by eight wickets at Wellington, including ripping out three of the Black Caps’ top four in their pretty short-lived second innings.
The lanky paceman is picking up a pleasing head of steam – in every respect – after major fears only a few weeks ago that his career might be in jeopardy after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a back injury.
But his hostility and penetrative qualities at the Basin Reserve confirmed that he still has a significant shelf life in five-dayers (assuming no further serious setbacks) at the age of 32 if that is what he wants.
To cap a fine personal Test match in Wellington, he came to light unexpectedly with the bat at No 11 in the Proteas’ less-than-ideal first innings, hugely assisting a major rear-guard action from a parlous 94 for six at one point.
His joint-best Test score of 40, and last-wicket partnership of 57 with Vernon Philander, was pivotal in the soon-to-be violent momentum shift in the contest.
Morkel getting to the 250-mark in the wickets column at Seddon Park would be a fitting reward for his loyalty of more than a decade – he made his first appearance against India at Kingsmead in the Boxing Day Test of 2006 – to the SA cause.
His current statistics show 249 wickets at an average of 29.28 after 73 Tests.
Once he ticks off that lone additional, required victim in the third Test, Morkel will also have the comfort of knowing that it will be some time before anyone else intrudes on the six-strong VIP firm.
There is a notably big gap to seventh on the all-time SA wicket-taking list, where the late off-spinner Hugh Tayfield (career 1949 to 1960) stands with 170.
Then at eighth comes Morkel’s current team-mate, the aforementioned Philander, with 161, although at the relatively advanced age of nearly 32 himself, and having only made his debut at 26, the Cape Cobras man still has some work to do if he is to push on himself to 250.
Everyone else on the SA list, right down to 20th spot, is no longer active in Tests.
The other member of the present Proteas seam arsenal, the sprightly young Kagiso Rabada, comes in at 21st with a still very distant 67 wickets even if he has heaps of time on his side to threaten various Test records.
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