South African cricket August 18, 2012

Morne Morkel and the age of the hippo

Morne Morkel has always interested me. There's something about him that makes me think Boris Karloff would have loved to play him in a film

Morne Morkel has always interested me. There's something about him that makes me think Boris Karloff would have loved to play him in a film. There's a large, loveable, flawed, silent monster feel to him. Slightly doomed perhaps, but able to wreak amazing damage, even if by accident.

Even his name sounds like a made-up villain's name.

While Dale Steyn has a vicious face, and Vernon Philander has the cunning eyes of a man who would make a mint on Wall St, Morne looks like a friendly tourist bus driver.

Batsmen have told me it's scary facing him. And you can certainly see why. Pace, bounce and inconsistency are about the last thing you want to see coming at you from the other end - even if he's got a idiosyncratic run up of a man who is less predator and more guy who checks the oven is off three times before leaving the house.

On his official website, Morkel has a diary. In it he writes: "We just had our final practice session before the series starts tomorrow! The boys are looking good and ready to go. I hope we can deliver something special this series and that we'll get off to a winning start! Thank you so much for all of your messages!"

That's a lot of exclamation marks for a man who beat your brains in with a cricket ball. He also says that if he wasn't playing cricket, he'd be a doctor, unlike most quicks who like to send people to the doctor.

The website also states that his favourite animal is the Hippo. Whether by accident or design (like his bowling) he's picked the animal that is most like him. It looks cute and cuddly, a favourite of those who liked stuffed toys and isn't the sort of animal you'd think would want to kill you. But they do, oh how they do. They were actually built with massive canine teeth and razor sharp incisors just to cut you open and kill you. Much like Morne with his height and pace.

Even with all these natural attributes, Morne struggled for a few years to become a regular for South Africa. He's currently ranked 9th in the world in the Test bowling rankings. And despite all this natural talent he's only got a bowling average of 30. For a normal bowler that is quite decent, but if you're Morne it seems under par.

Recently I was trying to find a match where I thought I saw Morne have a breakdown mid-over and let go about 20 runs including wides and no balls against Bangladesh. I was convinced that I'd seen it, so I went through the ESPNcricinfo archives looking for it. I found the Test, but instead of the car crash I expected to find, he'd taken 4 for 73.

Then I kept looking through his figures, and to my mathematically-challenged mind I started seeing a pattern. No matter what the circumstances, or seemingly how good or bad he'd bowled, Morne often ended up with roughly 4 for 80.

Now I say roughly, because it's not an exact science. But in his first Test he took 3 for 86, and today he took 4 for 80. In between these spells, other innings occasionally prove my point, and sometimes do anything but. It's not scientific, or even a regular occurrence, but there is something about Morne that just screams he's going to take 4 for 80.

The day I looked up the Bangladesh match was during the first Test at the Oval, where he finished with 4-72. At the time I wrote, "If I survive the apocalypse, I bet I'll check the scores and Morne Morkel will still have 4 for 80." Yesterday on Twitter and the Two Chucks I said Morne Morkel continues his trudge towards a 4 for 80. And he did. Now, I'm not saying I'm an oracle (I am), I'm saying Morne Morkel is a hippopotamus with a statistical anomaly that doesn't happen all that often.

Morne has all the skills of a brilliant hunter who could travel the world and devour the weak, but something isn't quite right. At the moment he is the hippopotamus that waits for someone to fall out the boat, and then kills them, rather the kind that tips them out of the boat in the first place: 4 for 80, rather than 4 for 40, if you will.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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