Das Märchen von Morkel & Co.

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If a batsman claims he is not troubled at the sight of a six-feet-six-inches tall bowler running in to bowl at 150+ kmph from a distance of 22 yards, he might probably be lying through his helmet. But ask him whether he would feel the same if the said bowler has been nipping the ball around and if he still says no, there is some white lying happening. The beauty of fast bowlers swinging the ball making quality batsmen summon all their skills to fend them off is very underrated in modern cricket.

At the ongoing contest between England and South Africa, this beauty has been on show, and has made every session tantalizing. The delicacy of the first test, which ended in the last session on Day 5, featured six fast bowlers of the top 15 of the ICC test rankings. Almost all of them have been swaying their deliveries both ways, hitting the deck and getting seam movement, all this in speeds over 140 kmph. While the speedster from Transvaal, Morne Morkel claimed five wickets in the Proteas' efforts to wreck England to an innings defeat, his colleague the phenomenal Dale Steyn claimed seven. Worthy to mention, the venue, the Oval saw a capacity crowd to see this.

Triple centurion Hashim Amla may have walked away with the MoM trophy, but Morkel and Steyn only reiterated their positions that strike bowlers will remain strike bowlers in any format.
One of the reasons behind this, of course, was Morkel keeping up the pressure from the other end. Pegging the batsmen back with the bounce he generated thanks to his build, he set them up to eventually fall when the others bowled. Like seasoned carnivores in the wild, fast bowlers too hunt in packs!

It might be too high a comparison but Morkel-Steyn reminded one of the great Walsh and Ambrose in their hey day. Even then, though Walsh ended up with more numbers in his last column, Ambrose's contribution to those same dismissals was unquestionable. Needless to say, they shared a superb chemistry on and off field.

Morkel is on his way to becoming an Ambrose though. He did not capitalise much on his stock delivery - the short of a length ball - in his early days, nor did his no-ball follies improve. But since Allan Donald took over as bowling coach, he has looked on the path to redefinition. This test, he made it swing and seam from an awkward length and his pace left batsmen with little time to adjust. Hopefully like Steyn, Morkel too will age well.

In times of multiple format cricket, it's not easy being a strike bowler and being consistent despite the packed schedules. Their motives might change to restricting runs and containing destructive batsmen, and they might begin going for loads of runs too, but as long as they pick wickets, they will continue being among the prized players. And with South Africans such as the above two, any test series will feel like a fierce Ashes battle. 

Photo credit: ESPN CricInfo