South Africa in Sri Lanka 2014 July 22, 2014

Mind over matter for Morkel

In cerebral terms what separates humans from other living beings is said to be the size of our frontal cortexes. Ours are bigger, relatively speaking, which is considered to enable us to think more critically. Channelling those thoughts correctly is believed to have the power to help us achieve more than we may appear capable of. Morne Morkel believes South Africa's quick bowlers proved that in Galle.

"It's hot, it's humid and you need to prepare yourself for that," Morkel said. "I've always tried to focus on getting it right mentally. If you're not mentally strong, you're going to struggle."

Morkel and Dale Steyn took 16 wickets between them to give South Africa the series lead and show that the story of fast bowlers on Sri Lankan wickets can be rewritten. But to do that they had to rely on more than just skill and dip deep into their reserves of self-belief to conquer both the elements and the opposition.

South Africa's endless chorus about the weather is enough to make most Sri Lankans hot under the collar. After all, it is not like they are neighbours with the sun. The truth is that South Africa know that they are coping. Despite the amount of time South Africa have spent wiping sweat off their brows, they have adapted far better than they have made out.

On the field, there have been no prolonged signs of cramp. Off the field, the reserves have been spotted running the streets after play to get back to the hotel - no mean feat even as the last rays kiss the tarmac.

Their real gripe with the 30-degree heat and the 70%-plus humidity is the effect it has on the tools of the trade, specifically the ball. It does not stay new for very long which can make it difficult to work with. "In this heat and humidity when the ball is a bit soft, that takes a bit of the battery life out of you," Morkel said.

When that happens, Morkel believes it is important for South Africa not to show weakness. Instead of allowing their shoulders and intensity to drop and aggression to fade, he believes that should spur them to operate at a higher level.

"The key for us in these conditions (is) for the bowlers to have a strong body language, because that lifts up the field," Morkel said. "Also for the Sri Lankan guys if they see that the fast bowlers are fired up and our body language is strong, that send a strong message. We have to get over those things - the wicket is flat, the ball is soft - and we have to come up with a game plan."

For Morkel the strategy involved bowling a fuller length which he does not normally employ and which is challenging for him to get right consistently. When it does work it complements the short length he is more comfortable with and the results can be spectacular. That was on display in Galle when Morkel picked up a perfect one-two. In the first innings he got rid of Kumar Sangakkara with his signature delivery: the short ball. In the second, he accounted for Mahela Jayawardene by drawing him forward.

It's no surprise that since Morkel is enjoying being tested, he relished the second scalp just a little more. "I felt I bowled very well bar the one over in the first innings but when the ball was a little bit softer it was quite tough. But to come back in the second innings - it's one thing getting the first ten but the second ten is more important - so it's a good thing for me to come back and support Dale and the rest of the bowlers and to have something in the wicket column.

"It's nice when we discuss and plan and those things happen. Mahela is a quality player and we knew him and Kumar were key for Sri Lanka. That was why we wanted to fire with intensity upfront at those two guys and maybe put some heat on them."

Steyn agreed that showing enough aggression was equally and perhaps even more important than relying on ingredients like pace or bounce. It's a case of mind over matter and so in preparation for the second match which South Africa only need to draw to regain the No. 1 Test ranking, the fast bowlers will be allowing downtime for both their brains and their bodies.

The three-day turnaround means "the most important thing for me is rest," according to Morkel. "I will turn my arm over the day before the Test. The next couple of days is getting the body sorted. I've got a couple of blisters I need to attend to. So just feet up and rest - some pool time, stretching and maybe a light run." Or a good book and soothing sounds on the iPod to keep the mind at ease as well.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sinhhalaya on July 23, 2014, 8:01 GMT

    Morkel was an ever present threat in Galle. Philander on that wicket was the weak link but was more than made up for by Steyn. If SL bat first SA will have a definite advantage. The pitch at SSC will even allow Jayawardena to score runs later on on day two and three. As a SL fan, hate to say this but they are looking down the barrel with only 3.5 batters out of the top 7 worthy of the term 'test player'. Think SL had better bite the bullet and expect a 0-2 result. Thank the powers that its not a 3 test series.

  • Steven on July 23, 2014, 7:05 GMT

    Morkel is a interesting situation cos he should have a lot more wickets then he has but he's to good to drop I'm sure he will get a lot more wickets before he finishes he just needs to pitch it up abit more from time to time he bowls a lot of those good looking balls that beats the bat lots but to short to get wickets but he's agood bowler I enjoy watching him bowl

  • Bruce on July 23, 2014, 1:55 GMT

    Judge Steyn, Morkel, Philander as a unit, not just as individuals and you start understanding why the selectors have stuck solid with them. As a trio they average close to 15 wickets per test match. That leaves only 5 wickets to be picked up via the 4th bowler, part-timer and the odd run out - not hard to see why SA have been so successful over the past few years. As batsmen bat in pairs, so bowlers hunt in pairs and whichever pairing you choose they complement each other perfectly. Now, if they could just find a top class spinner..?

  • David on July 22, 2014, 15:05 GMT

    It is easy to forget the many times that Morkel has been the bowler who has been the game changer, and winner, for SA. He is also recently been taking a lot more wickets than Philander A LOT more. In fact anything more than zero is a lot. Vern is not taking wickets, and gave us a black eye with his ball scratching antics.

    I'm not a huge Morkel fan. I am however a huge fan of reality. And right now, Philander should be dropped before Morkel.

  • Nick on July 22, 2014, 12:39 GMT

    While the SA pace trio was able to hunt as a pack and bowl in short spells at Galle, the SL pace attack was down to 1 and a half (Lakmal and Mathews), in the 46th over on day 1, with the unfortunate injury to Eranga. From then on, SL was virtually out of the game. SL will be back to full strength at the SSC, with 4 top-line bowlers: Prasad, the likely replacement for Eranga, set to join Lakmal, Dilruwan and Herath. The SA batsmen will not get it so easy this time round.

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    This tour his a golden chance for Morne Morkel to assert his class. The Sri Lankans are already hopping against the pace and bounce and he can come back into form.

  • Rishen on July 22, 2014, 11:23 GMT

    @Peter - Fully agree with you. His role as a bowler that just builds pressure has worn thin. He needs to step up or step out. There is a serious lack of variation from Morne. Relying on steep bounce will only get you so far in the test arena. He needs to work on swinging the ball a bit more.

  • greig on July 22, 2014, 11:14 GMT

    I have always been a harsh critic of Morne Morkel because of his inability to be consistent and put the ball in the right place. In the last Test he bowled superbly so hats off to him. For me these spells of brilliance just dont come around as often as i would like.

    I see he is being categorized now as a Support bowler...?? If you bat 10 or 11 then you a Strike bowle, not sure what this support terminology is. In saying that his average has now improved to 30, which is similar to James Anderson. I think he will always play games for us because of his height and bounce.

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2014, 10:24 GMT

    Morne Morkel is a frustrating bowler who has underachieved for a long time. He is a whole-hearted trier who besides his height advantage has been too stereotypical and predictable in the past. I hope this is the start of more consistency and wickets.

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