Durham hope for Twenty20 success
Albie Morkel goes into his first Twenty20 game for Durham tonight, hoping the club's new-found South African connection can speed the county's progress.
The 26-year-old batsman-bowler, who has earned a great reputation as a real clubber of the ball in the short form of the game, hopes to give his side the best possible start in the competition when they face Derbyshire Phanthoms this evening.
And the fact that he, Shaun Pollock and Durham captain Dale Benkenstein all learned their trade in South Africa, can only help Durham's cause, according to Morkel.
He told the Gazette: "Cricket is cricket, but it can only help when you're familiar with each other.
"I know Shaun better than he knows me - I've spent a lot of time watching him play when I was developing as a cricketer.
"Dale? I've played against him a few times, so it will be nice to play on the same side as him.
"But it can only help that we know each other, and hopefully we'll be able to hit the ground running."
Morkel is looking forward to the Twenty20 competition in England, even though it will not have quite the epic scale of the lucrative Indian Premier League that he has just starred in.
He said: "I think you've got India on one side and the rest of the world when it comes to that side of things - the likes of 100,000 crowds coming to games.
"But I know that the competition is very popular over here, and I'm looking forward to the experience.
"This is a new chapter in my career, a new challenge."
Morkel reached the final of the IPL on the back of scoring 243 runs in the competition at an average of 34, becoming one of the stars of the competition with his six hitting.
He suffered the disappointment of losing in the final with Chennai Super Kings but said: "I've picked myself up from that defeat. As I say, Durham is a new challenge for me altogether."
He's looking forward in particular to playing alongside Pollock, the veteran all-rounder who is one of nine internationals Durham can choose from.
Pollock has represented South Africa in more than 100 Test matches and 300 One-Day internationals, but in the later stages of his career the 34-year-old has transformed himself into a Twenty20 specialist.
He said: "When I got the offer from Durham I really jumped at the chance to get on board.
"They are determined to do well in the Twenty20 Cup, and I want to contribute to that success.
"They proved themselves to be a force in the four-day and one-day game last year, and I'm keen to help them replicate that success in the Twenty20 Cup.
"I believe myself and Albie will be able to help the club on the pitch and the youngsters coming through, off it."
Durham County Cricket Club chief executive David Harker added: "Shaun is one of the biggest talents in world cricket, and we're delighted that he's decided to join us.
"He's got great experience in all formats of the game and we think he'll bring a great presence to the team, both on and off the field.
"We've got big aspirations for success in the Twenty20 Cup this season, and, along with Albie, I'm sure we have recruited players with enough Twenty20 experience to help us progress in the competition."
Pollock and Morkel are both set to make their debuts. Paul Collingwood has been made available by the ECB to play and Liam Plunkett returns from injury.
The entertainment won't just be restricted to the crease: sparks will fly from fountains as the teams enter the field, and the Durham Allstarzz dance group will be entertaining and interacting with the crowd before and during the game.
There will be face painters and balloon modellers keeping youngsters entertained around the ground.
Head coach Geoff Cook said: "The team have performed well in one-day cricket this season, and with the addition of Shaun and Albie's Twenty20 experience we have a real opportunity to compete against the world's best in a global competition."