For anyone who has seen the most recent version of Morne Morkel in the South African series against India or in the opening Test of the captivating series against Australia, it is blatantly evident this gargantuan paceman still has plenty to offer the game of cricket.
He may be 33 years old, but Morkel has matured as a bowler and still looks fit enough to endure a season or two in county cricket – should he opt for that route – and providing his workload is managed appropriately. Rumours of Morkel potentially becoming the latest player to decide on the Kolpak path follow his decision to announce retirement from international cricket to commit more quality time to family life.
In terms of his agent selling the player to English county club, they’ll already be fully aware of his qualities. It’s no secret one of Morkel’s main attributes is the disconcerting bounce he gets from just back of a good length, however, in the last two years he has managed to find a fuller length, a length he would need to find on the slower English decks that reward the length that brings the batsman forward. The deliveries haven’t become ‘floaty’ as he still hits the deck and rather than beating the edge of the bat he has found the nicks and has threatened the stumps much more.
The result? In Test cricket since the start of March 2016 he has taken 55 wickets at 23.27 (almost five runs lower than his career average), his economy is similar but his strike rate is significantly better at 46.1 (career strike rate is 54.4). Morkel continues to learn and has arguably improved as an overall bowler.
This decision may not come as a surprise for South Africa but there’s no question he will be missed. The disappointment is offset by the fact they are producing some very talented young quick bowlers. Lungi Ngidi is the most recent off the production line following in the footsteps of the irrepressible Kagiso Rabada, both seem to have all the tools to develop into excellent Test players, Rabada you could argue is already there.
South Africa as a nation must fear the number of players signing Kolpak deals. The depth in quality for national selection is being compromised by players retiring from international cricket or taking a break from potential international selection to retreat to the English shores and pick up a contract that will secure their financial futures, albeit fairly short-term. This of course could all change in the next 12 months or so depending on what is decided when Britain officially leave the EU. There is a worry that South Africa may see a rush, or something approaching that, in the next 12 months with players signing up on these deals. Heino Kuhn is the latest South African to join county cricket via the Kolpak route when he signed for Kent last week.
In Morkel’s case, speculation suggests he was approached by counties towards the end of the last English season to join on a Kolpak deal.
The fact is there will be no shortage of counties willing to offer a deal to Morkel now he has announced his intentions, if he hasn’t already accepted an offer yet.
There is surely no good reason why, as a county club, you wouldn’t be interested in bringing in Morne Morkel. He has the experience of 84 Test matches and has accumulated 297 wickets in that period. The opportunity to have a player of that quality mixing with academy players and players working their way up the ladder would be of huge benefit. The skill and the fitness are clearly still present and, as the consummate professional, you would expect he has the appetite to succeed in England.
Just as when Sam Northeast made himself available to other counties, one would expect a similar clamor to procure Morkel’s signature. Kent would be an obvious link with the Alan Donald connection, AD having now finally taken up the position of Assistant Coach at Canterbury. Morkel would be offered the challenge of playing a significant hand in taking the club up to the top division. Kent have also lost Matt Coles to Essex, so it would make sense for them to look to strengthen their bowling ranks.
Surrey are never too far away when a marquee name is known to be available. West Indian Ravi Rampaul has left the club and joined Derbyshire, so they too have a vacancy in their bowling attack, and Morkel would certainly represent an upgrade, with all due respect to Rampaul.
Ashley Giles’ Warwickshire are also believed to be in the hunt. They have been transitioning their squad to give it a more youthful look on the batting front with the acquisitions of Dominic Sibley, Adam Hose and all-rounder Will Rhodes in recent times. The bowling attack, though, still has a core of players closer to the end of their careers than the start, despite the quality still being there. Chris Wright, Keith Barker and Boyd Rankin are all over 30 and Giles will be desperate for Olly Stone’s return to fitness to continue to give the side some real pace.
So Giles and his management team will need to work out if there is room at Edgbaston for another experienced seamer. They will certainly be aware that players of Morkel’s quality do not become available too frequently.
When evaluating Morkel’s Test career it will always prompt diverse discussion. The statistics are impressive, whether he made the absolute most of his abilities are the cause for much of the differing opinions. However, he would surely offer a county so many positives, we await the next chapter of Morne Morkel’s career with excited anticipation. He certainly shouldn’t be short of options.