CENTURION – An ageless performer and an all-rounder in the platinum category on the verge of his 300th match in the T20-format, Albie Morkel is arguably the ultimate evolved cricketer.
Morkel, captain of the Multiply Titans who propelled the franchise to three of the four limited-overs titles on offer under his watch, was picked for the Benoni Zalmi-squad at the T20 Global League-draft in the Westin Hotel in Cape Town on Sunday 27thAugust.
He was snatched up in the first round for US $135 000 .
Morkel admitted he was surprised about the selection for Benoni, and so early in the draft.
But any domestic observers who have scrutinized the game closely, would have expected Morkel to be selected in the first two rounds.
Such has been his impact from 2015 to 2017, that most of the scouts might have had him in their top-ten list, unless they were still snoozing a tad after the late evening on Saturday when the international marquee players came under the proverbial hammer.
Morkel struck a magnificent 134 in the final of the Momentum One Day Cup-event in 2015.
A few months later, in his 50th T20-game for South Africa, the all-rounder nipped out 3-12 to ensure a series-whitewash for the Proteas on Indian soil. He was deservedly named Man of the Match.
Picked as skipper for the limited-overs formats, he was sensational in the 2015/2016-season, taking 10 wickets at a strike-rate of 16.2 in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge. He struck 198 runs in the series.
The Multiply Titans romped to a lop-sided win in the final against the Hollywoodbets Dolphins. Morkel also lifted the trophy at the CSA Awards ceremony as domestic T20-player of South Africa.
The all-rounder was equally superb in the 2016/2017-season, although he deliberately bowled a tad less in both limited-overs format, selflessly offering other evolving bowlers some game time.
“One of the things I have learned the last couple of years at the Indian Premier League, was that when you bowl out-swingers and the ball is not bouncing, players like Virat Kohli who possesses the fast hands, will strike boundaries.
“That is where I learned I had to bowl more deliveries that could nip back of the seam. You can manage that in-swinger and it will work six times out of ten,” he said.
Morkel first came to prominence in India as one of the finest all-rounders in the team of MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in 2007/2008.
The franchise subsequently twice won the Indian Premier League. In his first season, snapped up for 675 000 US dollars, Morkel hammered 241 runs at an average of 34.42 and captured 17 wickets with a strike-rate of 16.9.
As a batsman, Morkel has matured markedly. In the 2016/2017-season, he remained unperturbed, measured and focused during a ferocious spell by Marchant de Lange while his top-order colleagues lost their wickets around him.
Morkel slammed 117 and finished the season with a Momentum One Day Cup average of 50.14.
In the CSA T20 Challenge, he captured 10 wickets with a best of 3-12 and a strike-rate of 16.1
“I expect to be used as an all-rounder by Benoni and intend to bowl my full quota,” Morkel said.
Morkel says he knows exactly what is expected. He will endeavour to maintain his speed of 135 km/h, hit the right lengths and areas consistently and use both the out-swinger and in-swinger off the seam.
Currently the batting all-rounder is a general manager for Outdoor Safaris, but has regularly worked two hours per day on his bowling and batting and has done road work in the evenings in order to ensure his fitness is up to scratch.
Asked how he manages both work-loads with his boss’s permission, Morkel is blunt: “No, my bosses and I don’t surprise each other. I have discussed It with them. As long as I perform my work, all is well.
“The last year or so, I realized that I am coming closer to the end of my career, and I had to broaden my skills off the pitch,” he said. “Maybe the T20 Global League has lengthened my career,” he added.
“The way this draft was done, meant that all the teams are very well balanced and there is no obvious and clear favourite.
“I think the ultimate factor that will determine the winner, is how teams stick together as a unit. The cohesion will be the vital ingredient.
“The game has changed and evolved since the advent of T20-cricket. Right now, if conditions are good, any team (if in form) can chase down 200.
“But T20-cricket has also changed the game overall. Batsmen have just become much more attacking,” Morkel said.
Having played 298 T20-matches at an average of 26 and having taken 240 wickets, Morkel knows how to ply his trade with bat and ball in a way few can.
His signature shots are no longer just limited to the arc between long-off and deep midwicket. He can hit the ball crisply over cover, past extra cover and behind square on both off- and on-side, as he demonstrated in his century in Kimberley against De Lange and Company.
And analysts are in agreement about Morkel: when he is on song, there are arguably just two or three batsmen in South Africa (notably AB de Villiers, David Miller and Quinton de Kock) that can launch the ball harder, crisper and farther than the Multiply Titans-skipper.
As a swing and seam bowler, Morkel added a yard of pace since 2015, as his statistics in two successive T20-campaigns demonstrates.
Don’t discard the Morkel-factor when the T20 Global League starts. Morne Morkel of the Pretoria Mavericks could be a lethal factor with the ball. But his elder brother might just be an equally ever present danger with bat and ball for Benoni Zalmi.