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Staying focused

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The calm before the storm.

FIT AGAIN: Morné Morkel of South Africa has done his preparations and says he is ready should the selectors call on him for the Newlands Test.

FOR the past few years St George’s Park has been the calm before the storm that rips through South African cricket a week later in Cape Town.

Last season saw Kyle Abbott addressing the media before the second Test victory over Sri Lanka, glowingly telling everyone how committed he was to the Proteas cause. A week later at Newlands he bid farewell to the national team after reports emerged that he had signed a Kolpak deal with Hampshire.

On Wednesday evening it was Morné Morkel’s chance to sit at the main table after his first five-wicket haul in five years. It was a special moment in his career, but the cold reality is that the lanky fast bowler has also been linked to a Kolpak move in recent times.

At 33-years-old, and with South Africa having an array of fast bowling options at their disposal again, it would be completely understandable should he opt to continue his career overseas.

For this reason it serves no point worrying over what the future holds.

Experience warns us that the entire world could change within a week by the time the Proteas motor down the N2 to Cape Town, which is why Morkel should purely be appreciated for the work he is currently delivering for the national team.

The five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe was a vindication of the commitment he has shown to the national team over the past 12 months. Not only did Morkel opt out of a lucrative Indian Premier League contract this year in order to regain his fitness and form, but he further displayed his desire by playing for Easterns in a three-day semi-pro fixture a couple of weeks back.

“With the back injury I had, it was important for me to really look at the schedule and find windows where I can do my conditioning work.

“England was a big tour for me, I wanted to be fit and I knew if I went to IPL, which can be quite a demanding six weeks, I would be in trouble,” Morkel explained.

“Mentally, I am a lot fresher (when I take breaks), it gives me a lot more time to work on certain things,” Morkel said. “When you play back-to-back series or games you don’t really have that time to work on certain things. But now, to set goals and to try and reach that is very pleasing.”

This approach has certainly paid dividends with Morkel possibly approaching the peak of his 80-match Test career. He was the standout paceman during the England series and has now started the home Test season on a high.

All of this still does not ensure Morkel a place in the Proteas starting line-up for the series opener against India at Newlands next week though.

Dale Steyn missed the St George’s Park Test with a viral infection, but should be fit for selection at Newlands.

This leaves the selectors in a quandary with Kagiso Rabada the team’s highest wicket-taker in 2017, while Vernon Philander boasts an enviable record at his home ground.

Morkel, though, is not too fazed with matters outside of his control and prefers a humorous approach to it all while admitting that Steyn’s recovery after a year away from the Test side is gathering pace.

“It was nice to get wickets under my name so when it comes to selection, guys will maybe think about me,” Morkel joked after the Boxing Day Test. “Dale has been bowling exceptionally well in the nets. He looks strong, he is very fit and I reckon he would have been a handful on this (Port Elizabeth) wicket but it’s another week for him to freshen up.”

All things being equal it should be Morkel that takes the new ball under the watch of Table Mountain, but Cape Town has a history of throwing up strange things. We can only wait and see