Morkel may put Test cricket first as career winds down
Morne Morkel could consider playing only one format of international cricket, and it may well be Tests, as he reaches the twilight of his career. At 32, Morkel considers his career “nearly finished” and will meet with CSA at the end of the ongoing tour to England to discuss his future.
Unlike some of his senior team-mates such as AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, Morkel does not appear to be eyeing the 2019 World Cup as a swansong, despite recent reappearances in the one-day team. Asked how long he could realistically see himself playing international cricket for, Morkel did not provide a time-frame but hinted it may not be too much longer.
“I don’t know. After this tour we’ll see. I’ll speak with Cricket South Africa and see where they see me featuring,” he said. “I love playing for this team. But it’s not rocket science that they probably want to start looking, in white-ball cricket, at the 2019 World Cup. Am I going to part of those plans? If I can be around to help the younger guys find their feet, so be it. I’ll do that. For me the main focus is this tour and then we’ll go back and see how we go.”
After playing just two of South Africa’s six matches in the Caribbean triangular series in mid-2016, Morkel was sidelined from one-day cricket for 11 months, initially with a back injury and then because other players were being looked at. He returned on this tour and played in the final ODI of the three-match series against England at Lord’s and in all three Champions Trophy games but seems to think the selectors are looking to the future.
“My conditioning’s been good over the years and I really look after my body,” he said. “Mentally and physically I feel strong. But the World Cup is two or three years down the line and those are decisions they need to make.”
South Africa’s current one-day attack includes Kagiso Rabada, who is the spearhead, allrounders Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell and death-bowling specialist Andile Phehlukwayo. It could also have room for Lungi Ngidi, the young quick who debuted in the T20 series against Sri Lanka in January and was being considered for the Champions Trophy squad before he was injured. Rabada, Phehlukwayo and Ngidi are all under 23 and are set to play key roles in South Africa’s future and even though South Africa have struggled to replace Kyle Abbott in the XI, Morkel may not see himself as the ideal candidate.
His focus since the back problem, which he feared would end his career, has largely been on Test cricket. After making a successful comeback in the series against New Zealand in March, Morkel opted not to return to the IPL in order to get himself ready for the England series. He has also decided not to go to the CPL so he can prepare for a home summer that includes 10 Tests and South Africa’s own T20 event, the Global League. Morkel has not been named as one of the marquee players attached to a franchise for that tournament but may yet add his name to the draft. He is not ruling out T20 leagues entirely, but said international cricket is his first priority.
“If there’s a T20 league I can go and play in and improve my skills and put my name into the hat for other tournaments, then I need to make that opportunity count. But the Proteas and this environment come first. So I need to focus on that.”
Morkel has taken on more of a leadership role in the Test side over the last six months, something several squad members have mentioned as noticeable especially in the absence of Dale Steyn. In India in late 2015, when Steyn sat on the sidelines with a groin problem, Morkel bowled reverse swinging spells which, even though they did not help South Africa win, asked questions of the opposition. In New Zealand in March, Morkel was the bowler getting his speeds over 140kph. He has even developed a penchant for pitching it up when needed and has become South Africa’s go-to man to create pressure.
The numbers don’t always reveal Morkel’s worth but his experience is invaluable to a Test side that relies heavily on the strength of its attack. Having always wanted to be part of the pack, Morkel admitted he is enjoying contributing while he still can.
“In 2003, I was playing league cricket for a club called Endon, a first division club, and we got a day off and I came to Trent Bridge. I sat in the stands here watching the boys play. To play a Test match here, that’s what dreams are made of,” Morkel said. “For me, every time I get the ball, it’s about really enjoying the moment. In the past I put myself under a lot of pressure, but I think those sort of days are gone. I know how quickly a career can change. And I’m not starting my career. My career’s nearly finished. So I am just enjoying the moment.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent