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.