South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day December 15, 2011

Morkel's struggles come from within

Morne Morkel has struggled since having the new ball taken away from him

After Morne Morkel had bowled five overs, he was taken out of the attack and sent to fine-leg, where Allan Donald was waiting for him. South Africa's bowling coach had a few quiet words with him - encouragement perhaps, motivation to make better use of the conditions or a small reminder to return to the strategies previously thought out.

At that point, Morkel had not done too much wrong. He started well, with a brutal bouncer that struck Tharanga Paranavitana on the helmet. He induced an edge three balls later, which fell safely before the slips, then again with the first ball of his second over, although this time it went through the cordon for four and then once more two balls later, when it went between second slip and gully. In his first spell, he beat the bats of both Paranavitana and Jayawardene, extracted good bounce and threatened with the short ball.

Still, he looked somewhat uncomfortable. Morkel had to stop in his delivery stride on several occasions and he alternated his rip-snorters with short, wide balls that signalled he had not found his rhythm. He did not bowl for the rest of the session and came out onto the field before the lunch break had ended to try and sort it out. Morkel spent a few minutes with Donald, working on his stride, but when play resumed he still seemed unsure of himself.

He was given the ball immediately and sent down a no-ball with the second delivery he bowled. Through his career, Morkel has overstepped as a sign of nervousness, insecurity and anxiety, and what unfolded after that delivery showed that the same problems had crept in.

In that over, a short and wide ball was cut away by Jayawardene. He tried a different line but the batsmen could leave that alone, and when he tried to go fuller he was driven. Then came the delivery that summed up Morkel's day: a wicket off a no-ball. After bowling four dot balls, two of them harmless wide ones, he found the edge when Thilan Samaraweera was caught on his crease and sent the ball to AB de Villiers at third slip. Morkel had overstepped. Had the delivery been legal, his figures would have read 7.5-1-25-1 at that stage.

Instead, it resulted in an end analysis of 10-1-48-0, with Morkel conceding 23 runs in 14 balls after that, five of them boundaries. He bowled too straight, too short, too wide, too full and tossed in two more no-balls.

Weaved through Morkel's misery was Vernon Philander's extraordinary success. The contrast could not have been starker. Philander started with a wobbling loosener and within an over had found his regular, fourth-stump line. By the time he was into his third over, Philander had dismissed Sri Lanka's best batsman, forcing Kumar Sangakkara to play at a delivery that took off from a length to have him caught at second slip.

Philander did not just bring swagger and suave to the bowling unit, he took Morkel's place with the new ball while doing it. Morkel has not looked the same since he was moved to first-change.

His consistent aggression, consistent lines, consistent lengths and consistently application of variations in both, resulted in him becoming only the fifth bowler to take a five-for in each of this first three games. Luck was on his side as well, with two decisions going his way that would not have been possible without the assistance of technology.

Even without those wickets, though, Philander posed the biggest threat to Sri Lanka's batsmen. Every time he bowled a ball, the possibility that something was going to happen existed. His stock delivery, the one that lands on off and straightens from an awkward length, regularly asks questions of batsmen who are not sure if they want to drive or leave. His confidence cannot be shaken, whether he is lashed through the covers by Tillakaratne Dilshan, whipped through the leg-side by Paranavitana or tonked down the ground by a lower-order batsman. Philander has enough self-belief to come back and bowl a better ball the next time. Morkel, seemingly, does not.

As a player who is driven by his emotions, Morkel cannot distance himself enough from a situation to look at it objectively, analyse it carefully and concoct a way to improve it. He showed that against England at The Oval in 2008, when wickets did not come his way in an encounter England dominated, and against Australia in Durban in 2009, when Phil Hughes tore into him and he couldn't recover. Then, his position was rocked by situations and individuals. Now, his uncertainty comes from within.

Philander did not just bring swagger and suave to the bowling unit, he took Morkel's place with the new ball while doing it. Although too good-natured to admit that having the new ball taken away from him has made him question himself, Morkel has not looked the same since he was moved to first-change. He no longer has Dale Steyn at the other end, to attack in a different way to the methods he employed. Instead, he has Jacques Kallis who is seeking, primarily, to contain and Morkel has the responsibility of being the sole searer on his end. It may simply be too much for him to bear.

It may also be that he is struggling with complication of his new role. If the opening pair have failed to make a breakthrough, pressure is on him to do it, and if they have made many, as they did against Sri Lanka today, the pressure is still on him - to keep applying pressure. It's not as clear cut as being given the brand new red nut and being given a licence to kill, no matter what. Talent is one thing, shrewdness is another and Morkel has more of the former than the latter.

Donald has bags of the latter and some of it may have been part of what he was trying to pass on to Morkel on the boundary. For as long as the attack as a whole is successful, Morkel will have the time to learn. As soon as a situation arises in which it becomes crucial for Morkel too to deliver, he will be expected to remember what it was Donald said to him midway through the morning session of this Test.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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