South Africa in England 2012 July 29, 2012

Morne Morkel shows his mongrel


When Morne Morkel found success in the final Test match against New Zealand in March, he did more than become the only South African to take the first six wickets in an innings. He outbowled Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn.

It was something Morkel had not done in the six matches before that, since Philander had been given the new ball ahead of him. He found a confidence he had not had before, an aggression that was usually hidden and an intensity that he did not seem able to sustain in the past.

Even when Morkel was part of what was being labelled as the world's best opening pair, it was Steyn who did put fear into the hearts of batsmen intentionally, using swing, pace and a bullying glare. Morkel had the ability to hurt them and sometimes he did, but he never tried to do that with anything other than the ball. There were no clever, or even not so clever, quips, no piercing stares that cut through a batsman's confidence and no over-heating to approach combustion, the way a typical fast bowler fumes.

Recently, that has changed. Since his six-wicket haul in Wellington, Morkel's mean streak has become a little longer and according to the bowling coach, Allan Donald, it's going to keep growing. "He has gone a little bit further in terms of his personal development," Donald said. "He has found something else, he has found a bit more of that mongrel that we talk about. I think he has overstepped the line in terms of finding someone who wants to engage in battle a little bit more"

Morkel started the tour of England as badly as a bowler can. Peter Trego hit him for six fours in the first over he bowled in Taunton. Instead of spit fire, Morkel congratulated the batsman when he walked up to him at the end of the over and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. He went on to concede 90 runs from his 14 overs and sprayed the ball both sides of the wicket, usually a sign that a rough patch lies ahead.

This time, though, he was able to turn that around quickly. Morkel was the one who made major incisions in Canterbury, where he enjoyed a much better and more controlled return. He was the standout bowler from the first day of The Oval Test, where he was given the new ball because of what Steyn called a "psychological edge," over Andrew Strauss who he promptly dismissed fourth ball and was the most economical bowler at New Road where he also picked up two wickers.

The steady progression of his form as the tour has gone on has been one of the clearest hints of consistency Morkel has ever given. Combined with a new found hostility, it seems Morkel is ready to take the next step.

"He is a confidence bowler, there is no question about that," Donald said. "The more he bowls, the better he bowls. He's got great confidence right now and he is in a good place. We are fine-tuning things all the time and I am not going to be pushy about that. He is learning all the time and he is starting to show us what lies on the other side of Morne Morkel."

To bring out that other side, Donald made sure that neither Morkel, nor any of the rest of the Test attack, were rested for the tour match, a move that was in complete contrast to England. None of their bowlers who played the first Test appeared in the county matches before Headingley while South Africa's pack were all put through at least three spells at New Road.

"It's easy to say Dale or Morne should have a rest but I think momentum is a big thing, not only as a team but for the bowling group," Donald said. "It's important that we tick over, and get a few overs under the belt, not as much as in a Test match but just for a bit of confidence. When you are on a tour you always look for that confidence and form and we want to maintain that."

Maintenance seems a simple task for South Africa's bowlers, especially considering that they managed to take 20 wickets on a surface which England's attack could only snaffle two but Donald said there are areas of concern he highlighted to them. "We want to get out of the blocks better," he said. "It's not that we bowled poorly on the first day at The Oval but we want to have a real solid start with the ball."

Donald believes South Africa "bowled themselves into a winning position," on the second morning last week when they dismissed England for 385. While taking nothing away from the batsmen who put in a performance "you may never see again," he said the bowling onslaught, driven by the need to up the intensity, was crucial to giving South Africa the lead.

Now that they have that advantage, Donald said the approach would be not to sit on it, but to press it home. "There's no ways we are going to sit back and wait for things to happen. We know what's coming our way and we know England will throw everything at us," he said. "We take nothing for granted. We've won a Test match but we haven't won the series."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mathew on July 31, 2012, 21:05 GMT

    @Jezza. Nice post. Although I cannot hear a fat lady as yet she is starting to hum. We have needed to sort out the number 6 posistion since Colly. Morgan was never going to be good enough at test. If you look at other test nations their number 6 are all fantastic players, it is such a key role to be able to guide the tail at times. We have effectivly been playing 10 men. Woakes/Finn/JT three differnet options (all-rounder, strike bowler, or bat). All three could be match winners in time and should be given a go.

  • Geoffrey on July 31, 2012, 11:15 GMT

    @Marcio- I know Darlinghurst isn't perfect but hey, it's much better now than when I was born there. It used to be a dump.

  • richard on July 31, 2012, 9:21 GMT

    i love it when england are in trouble in something or anything sporting, they can always TRY and hurt an australians feelings, keep up the good work and keep on struggling.

  • Marcio on July 31, 2012, 9:12 GMT

    @Hammond, your level of judgment and condemnation of everything Australian is not untypical of those who settle in another country. So I will let it rest. Those of us born there no we are not perfect - but neither is your own place of birth, just quietly.

  • vikram on July 31, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Nobody is saying here that IPL has not affected at all on he is taking wickets before IPL, in the IPL and after no one is blaming IPL....but if he has failed or somehow lost his rhythm, everybody has said ONLY IPL IS BEHIND HIS FAILURE that sounds like every failure in this cricket world is due to just IPL and BCCI...

  • Geoffrey on July 31, 2012, 4:02 GMT

    @Marcio- at the moment, bog average is precisely the right terminology to use in relation to Australian sport. And it's a good thing too given the culture of "entitlement to victory" that pervades this whole country and is poking it's head up big time during the current Olympiad. @jezzastyles- Siddle would probably take my head off if I were to face him, even though I can bat ok. But I am not a test cricketer. Morkel and Siddle will both remain just on par as test bowlers, right up there with Andrew Caddick.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2012, 2:52 GMT

    @ Front-Foot-Lunge you'll find out soon enough mate when england slips down there the icing will be on the cake when an average new zealand whip them at home next year

  • Mathew on July 31, 2012, 1:49 GMT

    I hope that the supposed impossible happens this week and Eng beat SA. If this happens I believe some peoples heads might explode. If Eng are truely that terrible what does it say for the other teams? Are we simply the best of a bad bunch or perhaps second best? If we do indeed lose this series at least my head wont turn into pink mist and I will post my congrates to a better team, and somehow slip in an excuse or 2 lol.

  • Kevin on July 31, 2012, 0:47 GMT

    You gotta laugh at these people (myself included) who write off a team after one bad performance. Makes you wonder if they ever played cricket themselves. There is a lot of luck involved sometimes, and whether the stars are aligned. Just ask Chris Gayle, 158 against NZ, but dropped twice in the 30s. Had those catches been held that test may have gone completely differently. England can undoubtedly play well, so can Australia, India, etc... To suggest otherwise shows incredible naivety. Have the critics of england's pace attack here ever tried bowling fast? Do they know how finely tuned and balanced a process it can be, and how some almost indetectable change in an action can affect pace, swing, etc...? No didn't think so! All they have to do is get it right and the result could be reversed. Stranger things have definitely happened!!

  • V.L on July 31, 2012, 0:32 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge Heck of a time as in "beating no one but WI" and losing 6 of last 9 games? Yeah right!

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