Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says Morne Morkel could have played international cricket for another two years.
Hats off to Morkel on a magnificent career for South Africa. However, his retirement from international cricket is something I cannot fully comprehend. To form part of this Proteas team over the next couple of years would be really special, and to walk away from it now, is something I wouldn’t have been able to do for any amount of money.
The way Morkel has bowled of late suggests he still has at least two years left in the tank if he is managed correctly. Continuing his international career was unfortunately not to be, as he is set to sign a Kolpak deal with Surrey. If only we could have convinced him otherwise because his departure has depleted the depth available for rotating our fast men.
However, Morkel’s exit presents a massive opportunity for Lungi Ngidi, who oozes talent. Prior to Ngidi’s Test debut against India, I suggested that if he made a successful step up to red-ball cricket it would be a hugely significant occasion and, one that would herald the dawn of a new era, in so many ways. It’s so exciting and I cannot wait for him to bowl again for South Africa.
But the 22-year-old, who has only played three Tests to date, will need to learn fast. In years gone by, someone like him could have been shipped off to play a season in county cricket in order to fast-track his development and hone his skills. For years, the West Indies used said strategy to good effect in order to develop their pacemen. From a South African perspective, the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn all had that experience early in their careers and it accelerated their rise in the game.
One has to spare a thought for Steyn, who is nursing his way back from a heel injury. What a champion bowler he is and to have gone through so much with his shoulder injury, only to pick up another injury on his return, is so unfortunate. Sport at the highest level demands so much.
Vernon Philander, the hero at the Wanderers, is nothing short of brilliant with the ball. His spell on day five of the fourth and final Test against Australia was as good as one can ever witness in Test cricket. In fact, he is the glue that binds the Proteas’ attack. Boasting the ability to bowl tight under any circumstances, and then being able to take wickets with the old and new ball, makes him something special. But, as we know, he’s at an age (32) where injuries seem to arise overnight.
With Kagiso Rabada being the premier striker in the world and top-ranked bowler on the ICC Test rankings, South Africa’s new-ball partnership is the best on the planet. When witnessing Rabada glide in to bowl this series, it reminded me of watching the best ice skaters in the world. It was poetry in motion. However, it’s bad news that Rabada has been ruled out for the next three months owing to a lower-back stress reaction, with the series against Sri Lanka scheduled to start in July. The fact of the matter is that Rabada’s workload was too high this summer and he must be managed better in the future.
The composition of South Africa’s bowling unit is rounded off by spinner Keshav Maharaj, who is now right up there with the best spinners in the world. I have no doubt that the 28-year-old will go on to achieve great things. He’s indisputably the best spinner to have played for South Africa since readmission due to his control of length.
I believe his role over the years to come will become even more important, as teams begin to recognise his threat. However, for now, opposition team talks will probably centre around Rabada and Philander.