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September 26, 2012
If anybody understands twenty-over cricket, it's Albie Morkel. The allrounder has played more matches in the shortest format than anyone else with a tally of 200, 11 more than his nearest rival David Hussey. With that has come an intimate knowledge of the strategies and tactics employed to be successful in this form of the game.
Crucially, Morkel has learnt that the little things really do matter. "If you think about the game against Sri Lanka JP Duminy scored 12 off 5 balls. In the context of the game, that made a major impact," Morkel explained.
Duminy's last over blitz took South Africa to 78 for 4 in a match reduced to seven overs, which Sri Lanka never looked likely to reach. Morkel said it's performances such as that which add to a player's value. "In the beginning of my career, I felt like a failure when I'd get 8 off 3 but once you understand the game better you know that stuff like that contributes to the game."
Morkel's role as an impact player was established at Chennai Super Kings, where he was important enough to be retained instead of being put in the auction. There, he gained a reputation for being a big-hitter at the end of an innings and one of the leading bowlers but he was not always equally indispensable to his national team. Morkel was left out of the 2011 World Cup squad and operated as a fringe player but has found a secure place for himself in the Gary Kirsten era.
He appears regularly in limited-overs side and has a more defined function, in keeping with the new structure Kirsten has brought in. "For the first time in a long time, we've got a settled T20 squad where guys have certain roles," Morkel said. "My role is definitely to give the team a kick in the batting department when we need it. And with bowling - I am not trying to hide from the big guns. I try to take them on with the ball. That gives me as a person more to concentrate on."
Morkel, like Robin Peterson, has blossomed because he has had confidence shown in him. Instead of bowling only occasionally, he is guaranteed a couple of overs and is not expected to be the only batsmen who can win games. Morkel said knowing the big moments don't only rest on his shoulders has helped take the pressure off him and has helped the South Africa team as a whole.
"You need a good team around you," he said. "Successful teams have 11 players who can make an impact and on the day you need three or four guys to make that impact. The impact you make can be in two or three balls, it doesn't have to be in 30 or 40 balls like in fifty-over cricket. As long as you have that mindset, it doesn't matter where you make the impact."
As monsoon rains have poured themselves onto the tournament, matches have been shortened to the extent that sometimes two or three balls have decided the game. With more wet weather expected, Morkel said all teams will have to rework their gameplans for even fewer overs. "The key thing is that it doesn't become a slog fest," he said. "Guys still need to take singles and look after the new ball."
Along with the possibility of shorter matches, Morkel thinks South Africa's grouping in the Super-Eights and conditions in Colombo will also prove challenging for the team. South Africa will play Pakistan, India and Australia in their bid to reach the semi-finals. "They have all played some great cricket so it will be a tough group to qualify in," he said. "It looks like the wicket is a bit slower and will take a bit of turn. It was almost home conditions in Hambantota so we will have to adapt."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala