Durban – South Africa and Titans all-rounder Albie Morkel has returned from a three-month sabbatical from the game with a better understanding of the “dark places” that players can find themselves in.
Morkel, 32, is a member of the Titans team scheduled to play the Dolphins in a Sunfoil Series match at Kingsmead. Wednesday’s first day was abandoned because of a wet outfield.
Morkel was away from his wife Marthmari and two young children Cara and Albertus for six months last winter, playing as a T20 gun for hire for the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, the St Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League and for Derbyshire in the Friends Life T20 in England.
“I only saw my family for 14 days in that time, and never went home (Pretoria). When I finally got home I was sick and tired of not living a normal life,” he said.
“The prospect of coming back from India and straight into the domestic season was too much, so I sat down with coach Rob Walters and chief executive Jacques Faul and decided to take a sabbatical from the game.”
Morkel said that when he reviewed the last month of his winter cricket, he realised that his performance levels had gone downhill.
“There was no care factor, I’d lost the will to compete.
“I needed a complete break from the game to think things over and spend quality time with my family again. I needed to get to know my kids, take them to school and just do normal things that I’d missed out on for so long. It helped me a lot mentally, and I’ve found recently that I enjoy training again and I’ve regained my competitive edge.”
Morkel said he understood the problems that England star batsman Jonathan Trott faced when he returned home from Australia after the first Ashes Test. “Stress is an everyday part of sporting life, and you’ve got to learn to manage your time. Trott played so much cricket this year in back-to-back Ashes series.
“Players are playing so much cricket these days and sometimes they never get the kind of break they need from the game. The same thing happened a couple of years ago to Mitchell Johnson.
“I certainly went through it this winter, and I can tell you it’s a dark place.”
Morkel said that though he loves the game, he had thought many times about quitting.
“That was the scary part, because over the last couple of years I felt I played some of my best cricket.” The Titan said the professional cricketers’ lifestyle was a difficult one.
“It’s fine for youngsters and those who aren’t married, but I’m a family man and they are very important to me.
“My kids had begun asking me strange questions about where I was all the time, and I realised that what I was doing was not fair to them or to me, so I had to make some changes.” Morkel praised former Proteas coach Gary Kirsten for understanding this, and making allowances for his players to spend time outside the game to keep themselves mentally fresh and emotionally grounded.
“As a person it’s a lonely place. Only your wife and close family understand and sympathise with you. Other people think you’re soft, they don’t understand the reality of what’s happening.
“I know now what works for me, and I’m looking forward to creating a better balance between my cricket and my home life.”
The big-hitting left-hander also said that he hadn’t given up hope of playing T20 cricket for the Proteas in next year’s World Cup, but he wouldn’t stress if it didn’t happen.
“I’d like to enjoy my cricket with the Titans and be a big player for them. If I play for South Africa again, that would be a bonus,” he said.