The retirement of Morne Morkel will leave a big hole in the bowling lineup which would be hard to fill.
The underrated customer in ODIs but always impactful
22666 balls across formats at International level is no mean feat. Neither is 529 wickets at the highest level for a top cricket playing nation. Yet, to remain in the shadows of another bowler all his career and still give 100% everytime he walks out to play in green and gold is no mean feat either.
Recognition sometimes comes late in the career for some. Some do not get their due until they are missed. For some others, a retirement announcement sparks unprecedented jaw-dropping reactions.
When Morne Morkel decided that the Australian series would be his last, the cricketing fraternity stood dazed. South African fans mourned. Dale Steyn is still nursing an injury and his return to International cricket is still at 50% which means Morkel’s decision could see a phenomenal change in South African cricket. It could well be the end of an era.
Discussions and heated debates rage on about whether Morkel has a Kolpak deal up his sleeve (remember, he did drop hints in England last year), or if he is too tired or if it’s the lack of assurances from Ottis Gibson about a World Cup place that prompted such a decision.
Whatever it is, Morkel’s absence leaves a hole in South Africa’s already depleted bowling attack. Bowling was their primary concern in the recently concluded ODI series against India which they lost 5-1. Morkel was wayward, short and lacked the oomph but only a few months ago he had bowled his heart out at the Champions Trophy.
Morkel is an underrated ODI giant. With 188 wickets in 117 matches at an average of 25.32 and a strike rate of 30.6, the tall, hit-the-deck seamer has given the South African bowling some much-needed spark. These numbers are far better than Dale Steyn’s who is often considered the better bowler based on his Test exploits.
Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson has time and again talked about ‘Vision 2019’, a preparation to bring the World Cup home from England next year. But the absence of Morkel leaves a gaping crater in Proteas’ World Cup plans.
“Our mindset has changed. We have always been a team to focus on the now and when we are getting to a big tournament, that becomes your focus as well. This is the first time, we have taken a small step away from the now and a bigger step into the future,” Faf du Plessis had explained.
But with Morkel and a slew of injuries, South Africa are on the hunt for finding fresh feet before the showpiece event in England.
Do they really have alternatives?
Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir have been their two big bowlers in ODIs ever since the 2015 World Cup in Australia. These two have relentlessly contributed irrespective of conditions or opponents but the onus still rests on too few shoulders.
With Morkel in, they had the experienced fast bowler to nurture and guide a young Rabada although the lanky seamer is quickly developing into a spearhead strike bowler. Now, they have Chris Morris and Lungi Ngidi as options but replacing Morkel will be an arduous task.
Morris has been too wayward and ill-disciplined for Gibson’s liking and was aptly dropped from the Test side. So was Andile Phehlukwayo, whose ODI returns too look meager if you consider him a bowling all-rounder.
This leaves South Africa with Ngidi who is very inexperienced at this level and seems to be a one-plan bowler unlike in Tests where he showed better tactical judgments and good discipline over a period of time. ODIs are a different ball game as is a World Cup which is essentially South Africa’s nemesis ever since Apartheid.
With less than a year to go to the World Cup, do South Africa really have enough firepower in domestic circuit to replace a senior bowler? Dane Paterson, Dwaine Pretorius, Junior Dala, Andrew Birch….there are quite a few names making the round in rumour mills but how quickly can they adapt and step up to International cricket.
Paterson, for instance, has been a terrific bowler in domestic and franchise cricket but the step up to green and gold was a reality check. He leaked far too many runs and his strength, the variations and yorkers at the death, went awry. While he did clock good pace, Paterson was far too inconsistent to be persisted with for a World Cup.
Dala, on the other hand, has an impressive record and is more of a South African kind of bowler. His inclusion is more likely given the transformation goals in front of South Africa but how well he does right from the word go will play a huge role in deciding the World Cup team.
There is, of course, the option of bringing back Vernon Philander whose consistency and discipline is something South Africa would value at this stage. Then there is Wayne Parnell, another epitome of inconsistency, but again experienced and brings a completely different angle to the attack with his left-arm.
Who does South Africa and Gibson choose? The consistency Philander? The erratic Parnell? The newbie Dala? The skiddy Paterson? The immaculate Pretorius? Whoever gets the lottery, Proteas would hope that he more than fills in for Morne’s big boots.