Joy and fear of watching the giants
These Eiffel Tower like fast bowlers of West Indies in the 80s and 90s were a joy to watch and at the same time, they injected a certain amount of fear in your heart when the outstanding camera work of channel nine showed their fearsome faces while running into the batsmen. Joel Garner, the 6′ 8” tall demon, remained expressionless and when he stared at the batters after completing his windmill like action, along with the batters, I also got afraid. Imagine wings on his broad shoulders and enlarged lateral incisors, boy, he would’ve been the right choice for Dracula movie.
Then there was that 6′ 7” Antiguan giant named Curtly Ambrose, whose facial expression while running in during the fifth Test at Perth in 1993 used to put chills down my spine. His eyes were red and, it seemed, hot steam came out from those ears and after completing his delivery by dishing out a ferocious rib-snoter, he stood like a mountain in front of the batsman, staring like an angry predator to convey him the message, his doomsday is near.
Thankfully, I was just a spectator on television, but still, I could feel the helplessness of the batters, who faced those West Indian giants in the era of fast and furious.
I relished fast bowlers with a demonic look. They added some extra adrenaline while watching Test cricket and offers so much thrill which one can even think of.
The gentle boy from Transvaal
But if you take a look at Morne Morkel, the 6′ 5” figure doesn’t inject fear or thrill until and unless you watch him in action. He gives you the picture of a calm and composed boy next door, who would say “Hello” in the most gentle manner to earn the vote of a perfect gentleman. Those eyes bear no red signals for the batters and that smile is like bright sunny the sky above the Table Mountains.
Morkel is a boy next door and the feeling was the same for Jacques Kallis regarding Morkel when he faced him in the nets almost ten years ago at Pretoria.
South Africa would be playing against England and they needed net bowlers to practice, Ray Jennings, the head coach and mentor of Morkel, introduced him to bowl against Kallis. A nervous Morkel bowled to the best batsman during that time, and impressed him so much that Kallis asked about him and stated he should be playing for South Africa. Three years later, Morkel was playing along with Kallis and rest is history.
For ten years, Dale Steyn hit the headlines more than Morkel and according to many, the lanky Proteas has not got his due credit. Perhaps, he failed to hog the limelight due to the lack of an Ambrose and Garner like flavour in him and his rocky love and affair with no balls undermined his credibility to an extent. But when the tall man from Transvaal is on song, boy, he is just like a panther.
Devastation at Potchefstroom
On Day 4 of the first Test at Potchefstroom, Bangladesh top order could see that a panther from the South African jungle had come out to hunt them and from the word go, the panther had them in a total disarray.
Morkel’s first ball was on a fullish length, angled in from wide off the crease and made it swung late. It clocked around 140 kmph and Tamim Iqbal defended it with not enough control. That first ball hinted, what was about to come.
Morkel walked back to his bowling mark, Gripped the red cherry as if it was looking like fresh apple and started to run at full throttle. He was pumped up, smooth in his run up and he ran fast – the ingredients needed to script a devastating spell.
He pulled his length back and pitched it outside off. Tamim played it to mid off. Morkel’s third ball was an inswinger from outside off which bend in, but Tamim yet again countered that. Tamim observed, Morkel was attacking the offstump and thus decided to guard his offstump, but the delivery which followed was an absolute ripper.
Morkel delivered the ball from an angle wide off the crease and pitched it right on the length, which deviated due to the wrist position and beat Tamim’s defence to disturb the timber. Even a Viv Richards or Don Bradman would have been rattled by that cracker.
Mominul, the man who had a brilliant Test so far, digested similar sort of length ball delivered from an angle at a pace which thudded his pads. The South Africans appealed and on-field umpire raised his finger. It was another cracking delivery, which left Mominul clueless of whether to move back or front.
Then the Bangladesh captain was outfoxed by another nip-backer which jagged back in, to castle Mushfiqur Rahim. But, like the first innings, Mushfiq had been lucky as yet again Morkel overstepped and so far he has been found guilty 14 times in Test cricket. It seems, his rocky relationship with the front line is not going to stop easily.
But that no ball halted a devastating spell under the gloomy sky of Potchefstroom and a few overs later, Morkel walked off the field with a thigh strain. The Bangladesh batsmen breathed a sigh of relief.
“Aggression with the ball is being able to bowl at 90mph for an entire day in a Test match, to have a good body language, and even if you are leaking runs, never show the batsman that he is on top of you. The first 20 balls, any batsman in the world is vulnerable, so I have to be very strong in my areas and in my control and just have a little bit of eye contact. That is the key,” Morkel said in an interview with Nagraj Gollapudi last year and we did witness this sort of picture at Potchefstroom today. It was a high-quality spell of fast bowling and a big learning curve for Bangladesh batsmen as well.