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Albie Morkel has been a pillar of Chennai Super Kings’ overseas contingent right since the inaugural IPL season. He has won them many a matches with ball and bat alike. And he has seen some of the Indian players in CSK blossom into the cricketers they are today.
One of them is Suresh Raina, the highest run-scorer in IPL and someone who is yet to miss a game in the league since its inception. Morkel watched the better half of Suresh Raina’s first IPL century from the other end of the wicket during his 74-run stand with him. After CSK’s 15-run win over Kings XI Punjab at home, Morkel chatted with iplt20.com. He spoke about Raina’s knock and how the left-hander has evolved as a batsman since the first time he saw him.
Morkel also clarified that he still harbours the desire to play for South Africa but will hold no bitterness if his international career is over.
Do you think the Chennai Super Kings are progressing towards invincibility?
I wouldn’t say that. We’re actually having our first decent IPL if you think about it. We’ve always played well overall but at this stage of the tournament we’ve never been on the top. We’ve always come from behind, snuck into the semis and then win. We’re having a good year, playing some good cricket and doing our basics right. The best part is that we’re not relying on one guy. Everybody is making contributions. There was a bit of a stutter in the beginning of the season with two home losses. But did you smile with a quiet confidence knowing the team always peaks at the right time?
IPL is such a tournament that if you have a bad start you can always catch up later on. If you look at the make-up of our side, we’ve got lot of dynamic and explosive players, and sooner or later you expect them to come good. Luckily this year it has happened from the second game. We have qualified in the top-four but now that challenge for us is to keep improving as a team and keep setting that bar higher.
The last season CSK struggled to come to terms with the re-laid track at the Chepauk. Has the familiarity factor come back this year?
I think the track has played a lot better this year. In the past if you won the toss in Chennai, you had a very good chance of winning the game. But this year all the matches have gone very close here. We know that if we bat first we have to get 160-plus or else we’re in trouble. The tracks doesn’t get too slow in the second innings and so you have to hit decent areas and have good variations.
You had a match-winning partnership with Raina on Thursday. Your thoughts on his knock?
He was phenomenal today. When I went in to bat I got a few good balls and couldn’t hit boundaries. But every time I got a one, the next ball Suresh hit a six or a four. He has scored runs in the last two-three matches but in the nets right from the start of the tournament we thought, ‘geez, Suresh is looking in good nick.’ I’m very happy for him. This is his first hundred for us. He’s a serious performer and what a talent!
Do you think the shots he played straight down the ground were the hallmark of his knock?
Definitely! This wicket is a bit low and slow and to succeed here you need to be able to play those straight-bat shots. If you look at the other guys who played well tonight – David Miller played similarly and maintained that shape. This is something we haven’t seen Suresh do in the past. It’s definitely something that he’s worked on in the nets and he’s got a fantastic flow on the bat.
You have seen him since the first season of IPL. How has he grown as a batsman?
I think he’s always had the talent as a batsman. Now he’s more clever and experienced. He thinks a lot more. He’s always batted at three but in the past he would go out and start hitting from ball-one. Now he plays proper cricket shots, targets different bowlers and tries to bat through. When he’s out early it’s always upsetting in the change room because we know that when he gets us a 75 or 80, we’ll always set a 160-plus total.
How are you feeling about your game now coming back from injury?
Good. I had a good season back home and I came here with a bit of form. Unfortunately I hurt myself in a game and it was frustrating to be on the sidelines being in good form. But it’s good to be back on the field. Thursday, I got an opportunity to bat which was nice because that doesn’t always happen in a team that bats so deep. I also feel that things are going well with my bowling. Although I’m not picking wickets, I am keeping it tight and bowling in partnerships.
You recently hinted that your international career might be over. How hard is it to be realistic and accepting that?
I think what I said was taken a bit out of proportion. What I meant was I have no desire to prove anyone wrong. It doesn’t mean that I have no desire to play for South Africa. But you have to look at the facts. I haven’t played for South Africa for a while and haven’t made the last couple of squads. So, from the realistic point of view, if it happens, it’s fantastic. If it doesn’t, I am at peace with it. I have played 80 games for South Africa and I’ve had fantastic experiences doing it. We have young players coming in now as they are building a team for the future with two World Cups coming up. I’m totally at peace with that. I’m not the sort of guy who’ll sit being negative about it.
For a youngster, be he an Indian or an overseas player the opportunities and the experience that the IPL affords enriches and prepares him for the bigger challenges to come. Besides the learning of techniques and interacting with senior international players, the IPL gives the players a platform to showcase their skills and make their presence felt which in turn brings them more opportunities.
One such player who finds himself placed on the big stage when he least expected it is 22-year old Kane Richardson who was signed on by the Pune Warriors India ahead of the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013. The Australian pacer who had caught the eye of the former South African cricketer Allan Donald is presently soaking in the atmosphere and acquiring knowledge as part of the Warriors side.
While speaking to iplt20.com Richardson expressed his gratitude to Allan Donald for the chance and said that being able to share the space with the coach and learn from him is the best part of this experience. The youngster who for the first time is witnessing the grandeur of the IPL talked about his journey till here and the guidance from senior Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait.
Excerpts from the interview:
On being spotted by Allan Donald
I think it was when South Africa were in Australia on their Test tour and our domestic games were on television there. I think he saw a few games there, saw me bowl a few times and pretty much went with what he saw. I am thankful to Allan for getting me here. He is obviously a wonderful fast bowler so to work with him and hopefully learn a few things from him is kind of the reason that it is all worth it.
On what he has worked on and is learning from Donald who was also excellent in using pace and bounce
His style is the way I want to go about it. In the one-day international I played I got banned from bowling for running down from the middle of the wicket. It is just more that kind of thing that he wanted to work on and without changing my whole approach too much. So it is just little ways of going about that, areas which he has been really good and just talking to him about cricket, because he works with South Africa now. They have probably the best bowling attack in the world. So he is a pretty good bloke to learn off.
On the advice and influence of Shaun Tait and Jason Gillispie
Jason I missed since he retired before the year I started so I didn’t get to play with him but I worked with him as a coach and he has been really helpful. But Shaun I have played with and he is a really close friend. When we played Rajasthan (Royals) I caught up with him for dinner and had a chat and he still plays for Adelaide. He has been a mentor I guess, in some ways. Talking to him about the IPL and how to go about it all, so he is someone I would lean on and learn from as much as I can.
On having played more in the shorter formats of the game and managing to bowl four overs in T20
I think Shaun is probably the perfect example. He played international cricket for a long time but played only three Test matches. So for someone like me who has only been pigeonholed as a white ball bowler he has been really helpful. I guess four overs is good fun because it is not hard on the body and for me having injuries in my teenage years, it is good to know that you only got four overs to bowl and your body is not going to feel it too much. But everyone still wants to play Test cricket as well and that is the goal for everyone. But the moment it is just one-day cricket and more twenty20 for me, which is fine because it is enjoyable as well.
On bowling and challenges of using variations in twenty20
Yes it is a challenge because you can’t get away with bowling the same ball every ball because every batsman in the world is good enough now to hit it out of the ground. So you have to use and work on the slower balls and Yorkers. You pretty much have to execute exactly how you want it to pan out, otherwise you will go for runs like the other night (against CSK) when MS Dhoni showed it. He took us to pieces, so that’s the challenge and people who do that well, the bowlers who do that well are the ones that play all around the world for all these different teams because they are the best at it.
On his batting
Ever since I was young I try to bat as well but it just been that it is the bowling that has got me picked but going forward I definitely want to keep working on it and make as many runs as I can.
On playing in India and in the IPL
The three times I have been were a good learning experience but it is a bit different when you are playing in front of 50,000 people. The pitches I am used to but the pressure and the atmosphere of the crowd is something that I am getting used to.
On the atmosphere and how uplifting or distracting it can be
It is different. In Australia we don’t quite get the same amount of people, good crowds but nothing like what we have here. You can try and block it out as much as you can but it is almost impossible when everyone is screaming and blowing horns and waving their flag. When you play at home in Pune it uplifts you, you take a wicket they are all behind you. It is bit different when you are road. It goes all silent. It is good to experience it all because as I said I am not used to it.
On his previous experiences of playing in India
One was the Champions League T20 two years ago when South Australia played against RCB and KKR, which was almost an IPL like tournament so that was a good learning experience. And the two other times I came with the Australian academy. That was just a good eye opener to come over here and experience it. And once again to get ready to play in India whenever it comes about because if you are an international cricketer you have to play in India so it was a good experience and I think it has put me in good stead in this tournament.
On being the second most expensive player of the season and how that felt
I was almost as shocked as everyone to be honest. That amount of money is just ridiculous! When that happens it is life changing and it almost adds a little bit of pressure when you come over and when you are playing with 20 grand on your name. I mean $700 00 is a lot of money and a lot of pressure but you just got to do the best you can. But I am happy that Allan wanted me here and that’s the way it panned out.
On the advice from the seniors back home
Everyone said to enjoy every minute of it. If you are not getting picked or not playing well it is still an enjoyable place to be. Everyone is so nice and all the players that you get to train and play with in your own team and against is the other reason for coming here, to try and get better as a cricketer. It can get a bit distracting when you are not playing and it can get tough when you are sitting in your hotel room when the team is away travelling but it has been really enjoyable. And again when your team is losing as well it can be tough. But in the end it is 16 games of hard cricket and you just try and enjoy as much as you can and that’s what I have always done so far. I have really enjoyed it.
On being part of a U-19 2010 World Cup winning Australian team to the journey up until here
That was a three or four years ago and from then Mitchell Marsh was our captain and he is here as well and he has been named in the Champions Trophy team to play for Australia. For him it is a perfect path way, to me it is what is he has done over here. He has come and he has played well and done stuff back home as well and now he is playing for Australia. The IPL is great for so many things. For blokes who want to kick start their international career and play against good hard international players and domestic Indian players, it is perfect and if you perform here you are pretty much ready to go into international cricket. So that’s the kind of the path way here and there are a few blokes who have done that.
On an early international debut replacing Mitchell Starc in the Australian side for an ODI earlier in January 2013
To play for the country is an honour it came before I was really expecting it. I never would have thought it would come so I was just at the right place at the right time. A few bowlers got injured and we had just finished our twenty20 and I happened to bowl well in that. It was just good timing and I enjoyed that game but I have got only one against my game and I don’t want to finish my career with only one game so I have got a lot of work to do and hopefully I can get back there.
On growing up with siblings who play the game as well
It was more just about playing backyard cricket when I was young. I have two brothers who have both played and yes that is where it all started. Anyone who has a brother who has played will have the start there, in the backyard. I look back and laugh at times over the fights of who is going to bat first and if I edged it and it was caught behind, small things in the mind. That is where the passion for cricket started and to look back now and see how far I have come I probably owe it a lot to my family for stuff like that and yes they are good memories. I am the youngest so I didn’t have choices, I had to bowl so the older brothers got to bat and that’s the way it all came about (laughs). Lucky!
On the preparations for Chris Gayle who played a brilliant knock against them the last time
We had plans last game and they didn’t really work. Surely he can’t come off again like he did, but he is one of the best players in twenty20 in world. And the boys will be discussing the challenge that the match will bring and hopefully he hits one in the air and we catch it and we see the back of him.
On learning from the last time and Bhuvneshwar Kumar who had bowled well in the game
Bhuvi has bowled well in this tournament. He showed his class and he is probably the man I guess, him or Ashoke Dinda the local boys who know the wicket well here. It is going to take someone special to stop Gayle because he is seeing the ball so well. But hopefully he hasn’t got the innings that he played the other day in him again. I was actually lucky not to play that game, to just watch and take that game in, was one of the best innings that you will see I guess.