Derbs look to Morkel for T20 inspiration
If you needed an example of why the chairman, Chris Grant, and head coach, Karl Krikken, are so popular among Derbyshire supporters, the signing of bruising South African allrounder Albie Morkel for this year's FLt20 is as good as any.
Signing overseas players of established quality in the current cricket climate isn't easy. The proliferation of competing attractions around the world - the newest of which is the Caribbean Premier League - not to mention a contest between the top nations on our own shores, make the selection ever nearer to Hobson's choice.
Yet following on from luring Shivnarine Chanderpaul, ranked the No. 2 Test batsman in the world, to the County Ground on a two-year deal with an option on a third, they have now managed to secure the services of an allrounder who may be surplus to his country's requirements but is high on the list of those around the world putting together a T20 side, real or fantasy.
It is easy to see why. Morkel hits the ball a long way and specialises in the short, sharp assault that can take a target out of reach in a couple of overs. Chennai Super Kings fans will talk to the day they die about when he hit Virat Kohli, of Royal Challengers Bangalore, for 28 from the game's penultimate over to steal a game they had no right to win.
Lack of opportunity has curtailed his batting of late and he only played three innings in a strong Chennai in the recent IPL, yet I expect him to bat at No. 5 for a Derbyshire side that has lost the muscular power of Ross Whiteley to a crisis of form and confidence. If likely openers Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes are able to give us a start and the captain, Wayne Madsen, and Chanderpaul can use their experience to build the innings from there, the sight of Morkel striding out is likely to get spectators to the edge of their seats, much in the same way that Derbyshire's first overseas player, fellow South African Chris Wilkins, did back in 1970. Morkel scores his runs at a rate of 140 per hundred balls - serious stuff by any standards.
His bowling will also be an asset to a side that has had its injury issues this summer. Not as fast as his brother Morne, he can still trouble batsmen with a quicker ball, especially his bouncer, and bowled beautifully in this year's IPL, going for less than seven an over. He mixes up his pace, line and length nicely and has improved this facet of his game with age.
He has recently admitted that he sees his international career as over, though, and seems set to travel the world as a 'hired gun' for the shortest form of the game. At 32 he is still a very good player, which should set at rest the minds of Derbyshire fans still traumatised by Naved-ul-Hasan's displays last year. He arrived in poor form and condition and by the time he found both we were out of the competition.
Morkel will play the first nine games before heading out to the Caribbean to play for St Lucia in the CPL. Chanderpaul won't be joining him in the same squad, however, after withdrawing due to his Derbyshire commitments. No doubt we had a contingency plan for if the West Indies found themselves in a Test series mid-season, but fans will be heartened that contractual niceties were observed and our batting genius will remain for the full season.
It would be unrealistic to expect Morkel to carry Derbyshire from the group stages of the T20 on his own, no matter how great his talent. That will need the sort of team effort produced by fairly ordinary Leicestershire sides in recent years, who nonetheless managed to win the competition by batting down the order, bowling tight lines and fielding like tigers. There is enough youth, talent and athleticism in the current Derbyshire squad to do better than in recent years, though in fairness that is not setting the bar too high. We have, after all, played this game on too many occasions like people doing so for the first time.
Maybe this year will be different. If we do progress to the knockout stage, the chances are that Morkel will have a lot to do with it.
Steve Dolman has been a Derbyshire fan since 1967 and writes the award-winning Peakfan blog