Morkel’s too honest for his own good

If you’re one of the one per cent of professional cricketers who read anything written about the game, do not proceed. You will learn nothing from this column. And you may want to start an argument, which we can do somewhere private.

South Africa’s batting order and approach to the ICC World T20 appears to be, by majority consensus, outdated. If not entirely flawed.

They would appear to have adopted the miniaturised 50-over approach to T20 cricket, which most major teams settled on around 2008 – and abandoned somewhere between 2010 and 2011.

Loading your bases for a final, eyeballs-out slog in the final three overs can be spectacular when it works. When it goes well, it wins games.

From 140-3, a team can post 190. Teams have scored 50 from the last three overs. The trouble is, they have scored 25 just as often, which gives them as much of a losing total as a winning one.

It is far easier to discuss batting formations and tactics than bowling ones. Every Johan, Thabo and Nigel in the bar has a theory about batting. It’s far easier to relate to than bowling.

The most common question I heard asked after the Proteas’ thrilling win against New Zealand on Monday was: “How the hell can Morne Morkel concede 50 runs in three overs – and be hit for three successive sixes?”

A bowler’s field provides 80 per cent of the information a batsman needs to work out what sort of delivery he is going to bowl. In the ‘old’ days of T20, having a long on and a long off meant he would be bowling full and straight.

The batsman was supposed to drive and collect just a single. Any bowler would need to have one man on both the square and cover boundaries, meaning that either third man or fine leg would have to be in the circle. But times have changed.

These days batsmen have learned to counter that with paddle sweeps and ‘scoops’, or even fine deflections. They challenge a bowler’s plan all the time. It messes with their mind. They deliver the ball in two minds. Errors are inevitable.

Many observers of the game are unaware of the tactical intricacies between batsman and bowler.

Occasionally, a bowler will be bold and skilful enough to get away with the ‘wrong’ ball, given his field, because he is so convinced the batsman is premeditating the delivery.

So, a ‘full and straight’ field will suddenly get a bouncer. Dot ball. Result! But if the batsman top edges it over the ‘keeper’s head and the commentator says: “I can’t believe he bowled that ball with this field,” then he is the dumb ass.

I suspect there is an element of ‘honesty’ which does not help Morkel. He doesn’t have the variety of deliveries of other fast bowlers, but he may also be too intrinsically honest for his own good. People trust him. Batsmen trust him.

They know he will bowl to his field. So they take the chance, premeditate their shot – even at 150kmh – and get away with it. Anybody who watched Ross Taylor hit those three successive sixes must have thought: “How did he know…?” All three shots were premeditated. And all three cleared the ropes with plenty to spare.

Morkel is the nastiest bowler in Test cricket currently alive. I promise you that is true. I have spoken to enough batsmen around the world to confirm that.

The apparent lack of a ‘nasty’ streak means nothing to those who face him in Test cricket. He still breaks bones and intimidates. But in this form of the game, the nastiness which is most effective is dishonesty.

The best bowlers have a poker player’s rogue element. You can ask Morkel to be nasty, but you’ve got no chance of getting him to be dishonest. He can bluff one, but not the other.

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