On Tuesday at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, South Africa completed a 3-1 series win and it was the first time they had beaten Australia in a home series since 1969/70. It brought to an end a series of high-quality cricket and even greater off-field drama, culminating in a ball tampering scandal during the third Test in Cape Town which resulted in former captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft sent home.
But as the curtains came down, there was plenty to smile about for Morne Morkel who called time on his international career, finishing with 309 Test wickets. While the final morning of the Test series was all about Vernon Philander’s incredible six-wicket burst in less than an hour, Morkel soon took centerstage once the match was over as tributes poured in for one of the nicest guys in cricket.
Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and captain Faf du Plessis all spoke about how much the dressing room will miss a character like Morkel, while Shaun Pollock, hosting the post-match presentation spoke about the irony of one of the best South African fast bowlers also being a very gentle bloke off the cricket field.
“It’s very sad,” said Amla. “Everybody wanted something special to happen, and the team wanted something special for Morne. What he brings to the dressing room ... I’m going to miss this guy. Really.”
The final innings was especially tough for Morkel as he ignored advice from the team doctor to rest over a side strain he suffered in the first innings - ‘there was no way I was sitting in the dressing room in the last innings of my career,’ he said. And he even made his effort with the ball count, taking two top order wickets in the final session on day four that started Australia’s collapse.
“I sat down with the doc after I came off the field and I said do whatever you can to get me on the field,” Morkel said when he was being felicitated. “I’m happy Verny (Philander) could come out and do his thing this morning, there were a couple of sore bodies in the change room. The way he came out and landed the ball was sensational.”
He admitted there were a lot of things he would miss. “It’s tough to put in words this feeling, it’s very emotional, it’s been a great journey,’” he said. “I’m grateful for all opportunities I’ve been given. The mission was to beat the Aussies here, and it’s great to do that. It’s funny how things work out. The main thing is to keep working hard, always make most of opportunities. I’ll miss this environment, I will miss this lot. I will miss playing in front of this crowd. But I am excited for the new guy who will step in. It’s been an unbelievable journey.”
There was plenty of love for the ‘Big Man’ who played his final game for South Africa.
Farewell, big man!