Morne Morkel: The 'nice guy' who finished first

2018-04-03 14:22
Morne Morkel (Gallo)

Johannesburg - Morne Morkel stood up after a press conference for the final time in Proteas colours on Tuesday as journalists - South African and Australian - stood and applauded a man who has played Test cricket for over 11 years. 

Nice guys, it seems, can finish first. 

The 33-year-old, affectionately known as 'Haydos' (think Matthew Hayden) because of how highly he rates his own batting, has retired from international cricket and will not represent his country again. 

He went out on a high. 

It was Morkel's match figures of 9/110 that sparked the Proteas to victory in the third Test against Australia in Cape Town, while in Johannesburg he battled through injury to claim two key wickets as South Africa beat Australia in a Test series on home soil for the first time since 1970. 

When he finally packed it in, Morkel was fifth on the list of South Africa's all-time leading wicket takers with 309. 

This has been a week of tears.

Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Darren Lehmann have all broken down in front of media, but when Morkel shed a tear on Tuesday it brought smiles to the faces of those in front of him.

A man who is known for his positive outlook on life, Morkel couldn't stop himself as he said goodbye to the game and team that he loves so dearly. 

"When you play in front of your home crowd, like Newlands and here for the first couple of days, it is amazing," he said.

"Those are the sort of things I’m going to miss a lot. I’m really going to miss the banter in the changeroom, but I’m also excited for the new guy that’s going to come into the team and enjoy this journey … it’s a really special journey."

It is, of course, not the end of the road completely and Morkel will play county cricket in the twilight of his career, but nothing will ever replace representing his country.

"A lot of guys say they don’t miss the game, but I’m definitely going to miss it," he said.

"Not one day did I not enjoy coming to the nets and warm-ups … I enjoyed everything. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss it. I still have a love of the game."

Looking back, there are no shortage of highlights in Morkel's career, but the one that stands out most for him was being a part of the side that famously beat Australia, in Australia, in a Test series for the first time since re-admission in 2008/09. 

"As a youngster I watched cricket and saw that South Africa had a tough time overseas. When we beat Australia the first time and (Jacques) Kallis was crying on the bus, you sort of realised what it meant," he said.

"To be part of that and create a team culture and identity with Graeme Smith as our leader and with Gary (Kirsten), that for me was very special.

"Since then walking onto the field for South Africa was unbelievable so that was a big turnaround for me in my international career."

There are, of course, a few lowlights too, though Morkel can laugh about them now.

"Lowlights … there have been plenty," he smiled.

"I need to thank you guys (journalists) for 12 years of writing. There have been a couple of mornings when I’d wake up and look at the paper and I thought 'wait until I see you guys in the street.'

"That’s probably the reason why I played for 12 years. I wanted to get better every time and I wanted to prove people wrong."

Morkel will not be reconsidering his decision to retire, despite bowling as well as ever currently.

That means that he will not be a part of the Proteas side that travels to England in 2019 to try and win a World Cup for the first time. 

Instead, his last memory of that tournament will be when South Africa were knocked out in a final-over semi-final thriller by New Zealand in 2015.

"World Cups were a big disappointment," he acknowledged.

"I remember it like yesterday, standing at third man at Eden Park and (Dale) Steyntjie running in. I had that ease in my heart that he was going to do it, and the way Grant (Elliott) took the game away from us was emotional.

"Mentally and physically, the body is still good for one World Cup but unfortunately I’m not going to be on that bus. I’m pretty sure that with where this team is heading they have a very good chance to go all the way."

Is there anything Morkel will miss, other than having to strap his ankles before every game? 

"No balls," he said.

"Definitely no balls. I've had to work bladdy hard to get that right."

Read more on:    proteas  |  morne morkel  |  johannesburg  |  cricket


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