In a format tailor-made for big-hitting batsmen, few bowlers have managed to leave their mark. However, as the highest wicket-taker after the league stage of IPL 5, Morne Morkel deserves more than his share of credit for the upturn in his side’s fortunes, despite Delhi Daredevils’ boasting of the likes of Virender Sehwag, David Warner and Kevin Pietersen.
The successful return has capped a remarkable season for Morkel, in which he emerged as the leading wicket-taker for South Africa in Twenty20 and ODI cricket, earning him a nomination for the Cricketer of the Year in the 2012 South African Cricket Awards.
“It’s special. In the past couple of months, I’ve been working on my game and bowling well," the fast bowler - who has carried his international form to the IPL - told CricketNext. “It’s nice to get an opportunity in the IPL. I knew that with the quality that we [Delhi] have, I might only get a handful of games, so it was important for me to grab my opportunities and luckily, things have gone well for me and I have made a permanent spot for myself. But there’s no complacency, I have to be on top of the game every day to make that spot mine. Besides, as a team, we’d like to lift this [trophy] all the way and I’d like to be part of it. So my biggest motivation is to do really well for the team this year."
It is not just his 25 wickets that have played their part in Delhi’s resurgence this season. Morkel has been devastating in the death overs, ironically the time when most bowlers have been at the receiving end of a slog fest. In 15 league games, he had a return of 12 wickets at an economy rate of 7.36 from overs bowled in the last five of an innings. One instance which stands out in particular is his 19th over against Rajasthan Royals at the Kotla, when he conceded just three runs and took a wicket to steal a one-run victory for his side that proved critical in consolidating their hold at the top of the table.
“The big thing for me was that it was a win-lose situation. I just thought to myself that I’ve been bowling my yorkers quite well - in a way it’s been my best ball so far in the IPL - so I should back myself and enjoy the moment. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to make a name for myself. So my real motivation was to get confidence out of that and, really, I wanted to bowl [that over]. I think the most important thing is you need to be confident, so I just told myself that I could do it and tried to calm myself as much as possible."
Yorkers have indeed been Morkel’s biggest weapon this season, and while many a batsman fear the sight of a tall pacer running in at them at 150kmph, the South African explains the thought process behind his deliveries.
“I keep it in my mind as I walk [to the run-up], visualizing the next ball, just planning the ball as a yorker. Normally, at the back of your mind, there’ll be a patch on the wicket which will indicate the length and the line. So looking for that is at the top of my mind. And then I’ll just take two seconds to visualize it better, standing there to get a feel for it and really see the ‘keeper at the back catching the ball. I think it’s very good to have that sort of image in the back of your mind. And it helps me to calm myself down and when I run, I feel myself going through that, so that has always been key for me.
“In Twenty20 the good batsmen get used to the pace of the ball and then play it for boundaries, so it’s always great to be able to bowl that [yorker]. But you have to be clever. If you’re bowling at 150 and you can’t land the ball in a consistent area, then its easy pickings for the batsmen. So a lot of guys try to mix their pace up, and since the wickets are so good, it just keeps the batsmen guessing a little bit. But you have to play according to the situation [of the game] and not go out with a fixed plan."
Morkel has received good support from rising Indian stars Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav this season, and the 27-year-old feels Delhi’s pace attack can be even more potent next year. “I said this even last year, give this bowling line-up a year or so and we’re going to dominate. We’ve still got a lot of work to be done, but we’re growing in every game and gaining more experience. So things are going well at the moment, but if we can keep this squad and this bowling unit together, and after another year or so of experience, we’re going to be untouchable."