Morne Morkel: So long and thanks for the wickets

Morne Morkel: So long and thanks for the wickets

Morne Morkel spent more than a decade bowling, frustrating and delighting South African fans. He was an exemplary servant of South African cricket and the sport as a whole. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

In one way, Morne Morkel’s Test career ended somewhat unremarkably. With him having picked up a side-strain – the same one that haunted him against Bangladesh – those who were dreaming of one last hurrah with an ending scripted as perfectly as the historic series win would have been left a bit glum.

But there are no fairytales in sport, and Morkel’s career certainly hasn’t been a fairytale. There have been tremendous highs, agonising lows and moments of incredible frustration, but through it hall, he remained an exemplary servant not just of South African cricket, but of the sport as a whole.

He will go on to finish his career on a Kolpak deal at Surrey and whatever other T20 deals might come his way – and nobody should begrudge him that.

He has spent more than a decade availing himself to the thankless task of being a fast bowler for his country in all three formats.

Announcing his decision prior to the Test series against Australia, Morkel explained: “It was an extremely tough decision but I feel the time is right to start a new chapter. I have a young family and a foreign wife, and the current demanding international schedule has put a lot of strain us. I have to put them first and this decision will only benefit us going forward.

I have loved every minute that I have played in the Proteas jersey, and I am incredibly grateful to my team mates, Cricket South Africa, and my family and friends for the support over the years. I still feel there is a lot of cricket left in me and I am excited for what lies ahead.”

Some will remember him for what could have been. Others will recognise that frustration as a hallmark of his career: a gentle enigma who operated, often underrated, in the shadows, despite his imposing stature.

If you could cobble together the perfect Frankenstein fast bowler, Morkel’s height will be one of the first elements to pick out. Even for those who aren’t vertically challenged, locking eyes with the 33-year old requires a tilt of the head.

But simply being tall does not give you a free pass to take wickets at will.

Despite being able to crank up his pace to the 140km/h mark, Morkel was perhaps less feared than some of his fast bowling colleagues.

By his own admission, the lanky quick has always had to work much harder than his compatriots.

I’m not as naturally gifted as Dale and those guys. They don’t even have to train and they have rhythm. I have to work hard and rhythm for me is key, it’s part of the game and it’s a controllable, so if you work on it, you’ll get it right,” he told Daily Maverick in an interview back in 2013.

Despite not being “gifted”, Morkel’s uncanny ability to engineer wickets by working batsmen over earned him 300 Test sticks – a total achieved by just five South Africans, including him, at the time of his retirement.

One of the most memorable examples of his ability to work batsmen over was during South Africa’s most recent tour of England in 2017 when he dismissed Alastair Cook – bowled for seven off 29 balls – after a period of such persistent irritation that Cook would have been forgiven for just walking off out of frustration.

Instead Cook was bowled, beautifully.

Ball after ball, Morkel persisted with the nagging length that had brought him so much success. The batsman survived, barely, and in the heat of the moment, ever-so-polite, Morkel quipped: “It’s coming, Cookie.”

The next over, it did.

That moment stands out because it epitomised everything Morkel was known for. A fierce competitor, who rarely crossed “the line” and who would run in all day every day if his captain asked him to.

He was impeccably polite – to both journalists and his opponents – and held Test cricket and playing for his country in high regard. Sometimes, his frustrations would get the better of him, but he was never afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.

And with that, Morkel holds one of cricket’s more dubious records: most wickets taken with a no-ball. That unfortunate transgression has been a source of frustration for the bowler and fans, but will in all likelihood become a source of comic relief when reflecting on a fine career.

Memorable, too, was that moment at The Oval when he walked into the groundsman’s shed instead of the dressing room.

These light-hearted and frustrating moments wove together an impressive career that got better the longer he played. In the last three years, Morkel picked up 77 wickets at an average of just over 23 – a few fractions lower than this career average.

In an era where it was often believed that nice guys finish last, Morkel stood out for doing the exact opposite. DM

Photo: Morne Morkel of South Africa bowls during Day 2 of the International Test Series cricket match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands, Cape Town on 23 March 2018 Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.