South Africa failed to fire in the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka recently and Morkel received plenty of criticism for his role – he scored just 19 runs in three innings, but faced only 12 balls and was dismissed just once, while he bowled a paltry seven overs in four matches and conceded 70 runs and took two wickets.
The all-rounder was also controversially omitted from the South African team for their must-win match against Australia, his replacement Wayne Parnell not batting and bowling two overs for 24 runs.
“Albie seems a bit more secure with the Super Kings and he’s given us great performances all the way through the history of our franchise. We’re able to give him long stretches of games and that benefits his confidence,” Fleming says.
“It’s a lot more cut-throat at international level and he seems to be under more pressure with South Africa. It’s a talented team with a lot of multi-skilled players and they’re always trying different tactics, so perhaps he’s still searching for his role a bit.”
At the Chennai Super Kings, arguably the most successful twenty20 team ever with two IPL crowns and a Champions League title, Morkel’s role is clear – to hit the ball hard and to take wickets, operating more often than not as a strike bowler up front.
“Albie operates to a different set of rules,” Fleming, a cerebral former New Zealand captain who produced top-class results with a small resource base, says, explaining that the left-handed power-hitter is being subjected to a traditional set of expectations which no longer apply.
“A concept like form doesn’t exist in twenty20, you can throw that out the window. At Chennai, Albie would be deemed a success if he comes off in one out of five innings, scores 40 off 20 or even 18 off five. We’re able to accommodate inconsistencies in that role and even if he hits two boundaries off three balls at the death, then he’s done a job.
“Those little cameos are a major factor in twenty20, but it seems over here that Albie’s analysed in old ODI terms but there’s no such thing as form in this game,” Fleming says.
Morkel has been given some weighty responsibilities by the Super Kings, even opening the bowling, but he has seldom let them down.
“He’s really valued by us, Chennai love him and he’ll have 40 000 people screaming his name when he plays. But we have really consistent selection, we’re very conservative when it comes to selection, and sometimes you even have to apply a bit of false confidence to him,” Fleming says.
The Chennai Super Kings, winners in 2010, will be one of the favourites in the Champions League competition that kicks off properly, after the qualifying stage, with the two Group A clashes at Centurion on Saturday.
While Morkel is almost certainly going to be in their starting XI, another South African, Faf du Plessis, will be competing with Australian great Mike Hussey for a place at the top of the order.
“Mike Hussey has done very well for us, but Faf has the same sort of skills and we’ve groomed him to play the same role. He’s a very clever batsman, there’s no reason why he can’t be effective in the first six overs, he can hit over the top and improvise by coming down the track and he played very well for us in the last IPL.
“It’s a big positive that he’s backing up and competing with Mike Hussey,” Fleming says.
The South African players also have other talents which the Indian giants appreciate.
“It’s excellent to have the South African players because they arrange golf courses very well and Albie is brilliant for safaris,” the debonair Kiwi laughs.
The real usefulness of Du Plessis and Morkel being in the CSK squad though is their local knowledge.
“The conditions at this time of year mean selection is a bit of a juggling act. We have to make sure we don’t just stick to a firm plan, we have to work conditions out quickly and that’s where the South African knowledge is so useful,” Fleming says.