Morne’s Elephant

Let’s be honest. There’s a lot we can’t talk about publicly. It’s not like we’re living in North Korea or anything, but there are issues which we need to tread around delicately. The simplest comment has to be thought about intently, and then rethought. What are the ramifications – what might they be?

So, for a change, let’s just dive straight in. The wonderful, extremely likeable, absurdly talented Morne Morkel has, for many years, been as much of a liability as a match-winner in ODI cricket. The ‘weakness’ has been his perceived vulnerability in bowling the final overs of the innings, the ‘death overs’.

Captains and coaches (you can figure out who they are) have questioned his big match temperament. They gave him the opportunity, and he did not take it. Some were honest enough to say things like: “He has a fragile temperament” and “he needs a lot of encouragement” which sound an awful lot like euphemisms for something else.

Morne Morkel has been regarded for the majority of his career as a bowler who can win a match before it actually needs to be won, or as someone who can put the team into a winning position – but not actually finish the job himself.

Sunday’s extraordinary turnaround in Rajkot suggests completely the opposite. India were cruising to victory and Morkel, almost single-handedly, derailed them. He bowled the most crucial overs, he took the most important wickets, and nobody was shielding him. He fronted up. He took responsibility, and he delivered.

So what changed? Why the turnaround? Charl Langeveldt might take some credit as the fast bowling coach. He is a ‘no-nonsense’ practitioner who believes in bowling 1000 balls in practise to get one right in the match. Head coach Russell Domingo deserves some credit for persevering with the big man at critical times. Shaun Pollock, too, might merit a nod for the voluntary work he has offered in recent days.

But well over 95% of the credit must go to the man himself. He finally wanted  to be the go-to man. Instead of fearing the pressure, or being intimidated by it, he – and he alone – made the mental shift. He recognised that there was no escape or hiding.

In Morkel’s defense, there was a surfeit of advice and planning, much of which he was uncomfortable with. He was ‘given’ plans rather than encouraged to find his own. On Sunday, he was bowling to plans he had made. They were high risk, as they often are at this level, but they were HIS. Bowling short outside off stump to MS Dhoni with a short third man. Ridiculous! Absurd! “You live by the sword and you die by it,” he said afterwards.

If Morne Morkel has transformed, if he is now the man to turn to rather than away from when the pressure is at its greatest, it is down to him. Nobody else.

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