New Zealand v South Africa, 2nd ODI, Napier February 29, 2012

Morne Morkel's milestone could spark personal revival

The real significance of Morne Morkel's first five-wicket haul will only be known later in the series. What this performance will do to his psyche will be more pertinent

It has taken Morne Morkel nearly five years of playing ODI cricket to claim his first five-wicket haul, but it has come at an opportune time. Despite enjoying one of the more fruitful seasons of his career, Morkel has wrestled with pressure and criticism over his role in the national side, his ability to deal with pressure and his fragility as a confidence bowler. One performance may not erase all of those concerns, but it will reaffirm Morkel's status as one of the most important ingredients in South Africa's bowling attack.

Morkel's season took off when he claimed what was then career-best figures of 4 for 22 against Australia in an ODI in Port Elizabeth, but it did not immediately kick on. Instead, he had a demotion of sorts when the new ball was taken away from him in the Tests. It was given to Vernon Philander, whose extraordinary success meant that all thoughts of resuming the Dale Steyn-Morkel pairing had been shelved for now. Morkel took the news on the chin and said that he did not mind bowling first change as long as he could contribute to the team in some way.

He took 16 wickets in the six home Tests (one more than last season where he claimed 15 in three Tests) but at times looked unsure of his new role. He was expensive and his no-ball problem recurred, most noticeably when it denied him wickets. Morkel had to look to the 50-over game, which has served him so well in the last two seasons, to gain confidence.

In 2010-11, Morkel took 29 ODI wickets at an average of 19.13 in series against Pakistan, India and at the World Cup. He followed it up with 13 wickets in the eight ODIs he played at home this season, his most in a home season in his career. He was used strategically by the new limited-overs captain AB de Villiers and brought on to take wickets at crucial time. Each time the tactics worked, Morkel's self-belief swelled a little more.

Morkel has carried that confidence into the ongoing contest with New Zealand and plugged away in each of the four matches he played before the Napier ODI. On a surface that de Villiers called "by far, the hardest one we have played on in New Zealand," no bowler other than Morkel could have hoped to make it his own.

After opting to take the field first, de Villiers once again showed his creative side with clever rotation of his strike bowlers. Morkel bowled six spells, three of them of one-over each, and had to wait for his fifth before he made a breakthrough. All the while, he used the short ball to excellent effect, letting the opposition batsmen know that he would not let up. Three of the five times, it was the short ball that Morkel claimed a wicket with.

He now has a new career-best, but apart from the impact it will make on his statistics, what this performance will do to his psyche will be more pertinent. Despite his aggression on the field, Morkel is a gentle character off it and someone who cares deeply about the contributions he makes to the collective. Individual achievement is secondary to Morkel in the way batting is to Chris Martin - it's just not something he really thinks much about. What's important to him is how much he can offer to the overall success and this time what he gave was as good as it gets.

"I'm just happy it all came together and I put in that special performance for the team," Morkel said. "It was vital, we were one-nil up in the series and it was a crunch game for us with Eden Park [the venue of the 3rd ODI] being such a small ground, anything can happen. It was important from my personal point of view to put in a solid performance for the team. The team needs their fast bowlers to run in and hit their straps and set the tone for the 50 overs. That's our job."

The real significance of Morkel's first five-wicket haul will only be known later in the series, perhaps even at the end of the Tests. This performance will have given Morkel buoyancy that can only be explained by watching how he progresses in the rest of the series, with the knowledge that he as the architect of one of the most important wins in the tour so far.

Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on March 2, 2012, 4:49 GMT

    It is a risk, Seether1, but to lesser and greater degrees of success, Alec Stewart did it, as did Sangakarra.

    Besides, AB's a genius, he'll manage. Not ideal, but a stop-gap measure until we find a 'permanent' replacement.

    Hell, anything's preferable to persisting with Boucher.

  • Neriyan on March 1, 2012, 11:24 GMT

    @Shongololo: I agree with your team selection except that SA can't have their best batsman doing wicket-keeper duty for 3 or 4 sessions, then come out to bat if they lose a couple quick wickets. AB will lose some of his shine as a batsman if he is asked to keep in tests

  • Ramanathan on March 1, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    I guess SA played only 5 home tests this summer including that legendary 2 test series with Australia. Some more homework Firdose?

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2012, 5:56 GMT

    What a talent Morne is, which is precisely his problem. He could be better than Steyn especially on unhelpful pitches bt because he bowls too short batsman dont need to play him. He would do well to bowl around the 7m mark.

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    If Morne was an Indian Player, even without this 5 wicket haul, he would have been guaranteed a spot in Indian lineup for coming 4 years

  • Paul on February 29, 2012, 23:15 GMT

    With an eye to the Tests, Morne's current form is very pleasing. Imagine if the selectors had a bit of foresight and announced the following XI for the First Test: Smith, Petersen, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers (w/k), Duminy, Rudolph, Philander, Steyn, Morkel, Tahir. No quotas here, with Boucher nowhere near the side; great batting depth; great bolwing variety, slick in the field; will give NZ a 3-0 drubbing if the weather remains fair.

    It won't happen, sadly, as Boucher is royal game. Should have been dropped a few seasons ago as his contributions behind and in front of the stumps have been spectacularly ordinary.

  • Dummy4 on February 29, 2012, 22:06 GMT

    So it seems NZ is lacking actual batting depth! NZ so need Taylor and Vettori, hmmm Latham should replace Ryder right now, he cant field well, he cant run 2s well, and he cant bat well.... Give someone else a chance! Nethula was impressive

  • Dummy4 on February 29, 2012, 21:36 GMT

    SA will win the next T20 as well as ODI World cup in Australia. Their bad luck started due to rain in a match they had won in 1992 Worldcup . They did not choke that time but then got labelled as chokers. Mark my words 2015 World cup is for South Africa

  • Tom on February 29, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    I only watched a little of the match but saw he was hitting 145km/h. Combine that with the bounce he can get, and he's quite a handful.

  • Dummy4 on February 29, 2012, 19:32 GMT

    Let us also not discount the importance that the emergence of both De Lange and Philander have had in the improvement that Morkel is showing in the last two months or so. Nothing like competition to bring out the best in people...

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