Bangalore: Lanky and pacy Morne Morkel, one of the top performers for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), spoke to The Telegraph going into the IPL VII final.
Q Fast bowlers have an aura around them...
A It’s nice to be able to bowl fast... Crowds love it, get excited. However, it’s important not to get too caught up with these things and I don’t focus on the flashy stuff.
So, what’s your approach?
I stay humble and enjoy staying in my bubble. It has been working for me... I look up to many fast bowlers, but it’s my job to find the recipe that’s going to work for me. In the past, I’ve been guilty of listening to too much advice and trying out too many things.
Is pace everything?
It’s an advantage, but isn’t everything. Accuracy, for example, is as important. Then, there’s the element of skill... Of being able to swing the ball, of getting it to reverse, of using the crease and hitting the right spot consistently.
Did you have a role model?
Not a role model, but I did a lot of work with Shaun Pollock, who turned out to be an unbelievable mentor. He had an amazing work ethic... Then, there was Makhaya Ntini, an incredible athlete.
Didn’t Allan Donald have an influence?
Definitely. I met Allan for the first time at a camp in Bloemfontein, I must have been 19-20 then. We kept in contact after that and I’d visit his camps for fast bowlers. As part of our national team’s support staff, he’s a great mentor. One can go up to Allan at any time.
If you weren’t a fast bowler, what would you have been doing?
(Smiles) Cricket runs in the family and it’s in my blood. If I wasn’t a cricketer, I’d probably be sitting somewhere in South Africa and trying to protect the rhino... Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher are already involved with an initiative.
What’s it like being in the same bowling group as Dale Steyn?
Great... Dale’s been the world’s No.1 for some time now... We enjoy each other’s success. He’s the kind to do the high-five or send an SMS if I’m doing well. I do the same.
The two of you must also be competing with each other...
There’s nothing better than healthy competition. What’s kept in mind is the interest of the team. We encourage each other, which works best for the team.
What’s special about Steyn?
Dale’s such a natural athlete... He’s the type who, even when not bowling for months, could strike an immaculate line and length straightaway. I need a lot more balls and overs to get into rhythm, but that comes naturally to him. You don’t get to see a guy like Dale everywhere.
Having made your South Africa debut eight years ago, you’re a senior pro... With Graeme Smith retiring from all formats and Kallis quitting Test cricket, do you see yourself playing a bigger role?
Well, Graeme had been encouraging the younger lot to take more responsibility... We need to move on and also try and keep intact the legacy... It will be challenging, but in AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, we have good leaders.
Your thoughts on the journey of eight years?
It has been amazing. I’d hardly played first-class cricket when I got the call for South Africa, so I’ve actually learnt my trade while playing international cricket... It has always been about getting stronger and trying to perfect my action. I’ve been lucky to get the support of seniors and I’ve been fortunate to work with very good coaches.
Is something special needed to succeed in T20?
Depends on the kind of bowler you are... In T20s, you’ve got to think a lot more, because there are guys who can play all the shots in the book. And outside! The objective must always be to stay one step ahead of the batsmen.
After three seasons with the Delhi DareDevils, you’re with KKR... How different has it been?
The experience has been unbelievable... This is a very professional franchise... That Wasim Akram is the bowling coach is a big plus personally... I don’t think I’ve ever met such a humble lot... It’s an environment I like. It’s special to wear the purple and gold of KKR.
Your role has been clear...
(Smiles) To strike up front, in the first six overs.
Have you been comfortable playing under Gautam Gambhir?
Gambhir’s been great, likes to lead from the front... Of course, there are bound to be disagreements, but there’s been no problem.
Sharing the KKR dressing room with you is Umesh Yadav, seen as India’s brightest prospect not too long ago. What’s your take on him?
We were together in the DareDevils too... Umesh is like Dale... A strong athlete with raw pace. He’ll be much better once he gets to know his game a bit more and identifies all his strengths. Obviously, he’s got to manage himself well. The team managements will have to do the same. Like most fast bowlers, Umesh has suffered injuries. He’s just got to remain strong mentally. The right people have to guide him and look after him.
Most believe that the IPL has become competitive with a capital C. Do you agree?
Yes... Right now, there’s no easy team.
Where pressure goes, are international cricket and playing for the franchise very different?
Because of the expectations, it’s the same. You’re expected to perform, but success is never guaranteed. I know that if I do my stuff, I’ll be rewarded.
How do you handle pressure?
By enjoying what I’m doing. On tours, I like playing some golf... Relax by the pool and read too.
What about a support system which pros need?
You need to ensure that the people close to you can be trusted and that you can call on them at any time... Besides, you need to have faith in your abilities, particularly when the going isn’t good.
Is there a fast bowler you envy?
The only bowler I envy is my KKR mate Sunil Narine. I’d love to have that air of mystery around me.
The last one... Any words of wisdom for the emerging fast bowlers?
Eat healthy, drink healthy and gym properly. Manage your body and, if there’s a window for a break from cricket, take time off completely. That’s important.