Hard work pays off for Morne Morkel
There is nothing more satisfying for a cricketer than when hard work in practice pays off and for Morne Morkel that moment came in the first Test against West Indies in Trinidad. Having had a forgettable World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, when he was plagued by run-up problems, he tore out the hosts' top order in the first innings and finished with six wickets in the match as South Africa completed a comprehensive 163-run victory.
Two moments during the Twenty20 left Morkel wanting to dig himself a hole as he offered in-form batsmen a life by overstepping. Against India, Suresh Raina was given a reprieve when on 5, and the left-hander converted that into 101, then when faced with England Morkel couldn't keep his foot behind the line to Craig Kieswetter at the start of a match-winning stand alongside Kevin Pietersen.
With South Africa having some extra time on their hands after an early exit, Morkel put that to good use and set about correcting the problem before it cost him any more international wickets. His recovery started in the one-day series where he claimed 11 wickets at 15.90 and during the opening Test he didn't bowl a single no-ball.
"A big thing about bowling is your mindset, but after the Twenty20 World Cup I did make a few small tweaks because I'd been struggling with no-balls so I made a decision to try and sort it out," he told Cricinfo. "I put some work into fine tuning my run up and I feel so much more controlled and balanced at the crease. In turn that has helped by consistency and it has done wonders for me so far."
The end product was figures of 4 for 19 on the third day at the Queen's Park Oval as West Indies were dispatched for 102. Morkel grabbed the key scalp of Chris Gayle before repeating the dose in the second innings after Gayle had battled hard for 73.
"Going into the Test you could see there wasn't going to be much in the wicket for the quicker guys so I knew the new ball would be vital to make early inroads," he said. "Once it goes softer the bounce just gets lower and lower and it becomes very hard work. I was pretty pleased because I normally start off a little slow in Test series so I'm really glad to have some success and I'm in a good place at the moment."
Morkel forms one half of the most exciting pace combination in the world at the moment. His partnership with Dale Steyn really began to flourish earlier this year after they combined to blow away England in Johannesburg. Once Morkel had roughed up West Indies' top order, Steyn found devastating reverse swing to finish with 5 for 29 and in the process became the fourth fastest bowler to pass 200 Test wickets.
The pair complement each other perfectly with Morkel's height and bounce alongside Steyn's vicious late movement. To make it even more enjoyable for the duo they are also best mates off the field.
"For me it's special to share the new ball with Dale," said Morkel. "He's been No.1 in the world for the past year or so and fully deserved to pass 200 wickets like he did. To help him out by putting the batsmen under pressure is a role I really enjoy.
"We are very close friends as well, we used to open the bowling for our franchise, so it's nice to now be doing it at international level and fortunately we are having some decent results at the moment. We understand each other and communicate well when we are bowling together."
South Africa's thoughts now turn to the second Test in St Kitts, but the tourists are constantly keeping plenty of attention on events back home at the football World Cup. The opening match, where Bafana Bafana drew 1-1 with Mexico, took place while the team were batting in Trinidad but that didn't stop the squad following the action.
"In the gym downstairs there was a telly that was on the soccer and it's the first time I've seen all the guys so keen to do a gym session," joked Morkel. "They pretended to spend some time on the treadmill so they could watch.
"It's a huge event for South Africa and it's a shame to be missing all the hype back home. We are supporting Bafana Bafana all the way and were lucky enough that one of local pubs [in Trinidad] taped the game for us. So after play we went for a beer and a steak and watched the match. For the match against Uruguay we have organised training to be early so we can then watch the game. It's fantastic and great for the country."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo