Morkel’s going, going, gone for $50 000 to the Delhi Daredevils

Albie Morkel spent last winter taking stock. He reckoned that if he could get fit and play good cricket, he might just give the national selectors a nudge and a wink for the World Cup, despite not having played one day international cricket since March 2012.

Everything progressed swimmingly until September, when he ruptured the ligaments in his left ankle while team-building with the Titans near Knysna.

“We’d run nearly 13km and were only 600m away from the finish,” he remembers. “I jumped over a pool of water full belt and my foot got snagged on a submerged root or rock. I was in a cast for eight weeks and a moon boot after that. The rehab was the most challenging because your leg is now as thin as a toothpick. It was quite a mental blow. I had a few dark days.”

With the shrinking of muscles came a withering of ambition. Morkel was only able to get on to the park in late January, just in time for the Titans to make a grab for one of the two semi-final places in the Momentum One-Day Cup, the Cobras qualifying for a home final by finishing top of the log.

Their mad scramble was compounded by the fact that they’d lost four points to the Knights for underpreparing the wicket at Willowmoore Park and they were fast developing a reputation for being the competition’s most profligate side, bowling nearly 200 wides in 11 matches.

Management began to wise up. Rowan Richards and Ethy Mbhalati were jettisoned in favour of Junior Dala and JP de Villiers, Jacques Rudolph was brought back and Dean Elgar scored a century in Durban in the semi to propel the boys from Centurion into the final.

Massive belief
“As the season progressed we began to get a massive belief in our batting unit,” said Morkel. “It didn’t matter if we set or chased, we felt we could get anything.”

Having reached the final at Newlands, initially their challenge went as flat as a can of open Castle left in the sun. Richard Levi destroyed the nervous De Villiers and the Cobras uncoiled to 50 in four overs. They slid smoothly to 160 without loss but then some “weird” decisions involving the powerplay – and Justin Ontong’s run-out after he promoted himself up the order – meant the Cobras’ innings stuttered to 285 when 330 or even 340 seemed on.

Morkel entered the fray with the Titans at 60 for four in their chase, and the cup was fast disappearing. “Dean was set and everyone that got out said it was a brilliant wicket. I started slowly, with five off nearly 20 balls, but I just wanted to play myself in. I was struggling a bit and then, after my first boundary, it got easier.”

Although they lost Elgar at the end, the Titans cruised to victory by five wickets thanks to a wickedly destructive innings from Morkel, the man who had been hobbling around in a moon boot three months before. He scored eight fours and seven sixes in his 103-ball 134 not out, combining in a partnership of 195 for the fifth wicket with the more sedate Elgar, who scored exactly a hundred.

“Those innings are amazing because they just don’t happen that often. You’re in a bubble, in the zone, you can’t hear the crowd. It’s a weird feeling. There’s no chance of a bowler getting you out,” said Morkel.

Snaffled for a bargain
On the Monday after Friday night’s final, he was thrown into the Indian Premier League auction. Having played so little cricket, his expectations were low. In the end he was snaffled for a bargain $50 000, moving from the Royal Challengers Bangalore to the Delhi Daredevils, thus joining countrymen Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy.

He acknowledges that his Titans coach, Rob Walter, who works at the Daredevils as a conditioning trainer, and Gary Kirsten, the Delhi coach, must have had something to do with it.

“I was nervous,” he admits, “because I haven’t played that much. I just want to go across and help them do well. They haven’t historically been that successful.”

When South African cricketers elsewhere must be wondering whether they are sailing a doomed World Cup ship, Morkel is clipping along with the wind in his sails. He’s fit, competitive and the ankle is strong. He turns 34 in June. Retirement isn’t even a cloud on the horizon.

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