DURBAN - Morne Morkel, the apprentice, ran in and bowled his first ball in Test cricket during the Boxing Day Test of 2006, to Wasim Jaffer of India. It was a no-ball, exposing some nerves in the system, and it preceded a tough baptism of fire, as his figures read 0/26 after his first spell of four overs. Nothing foretold of the next 11 years around the world for the man from Vereeniging.
“Thinking back 11 years ago when I bowled my first over, I was very nervous, and to think of 250 wickets, I’m quite happy with that,” Morkel, pictured, reflected on Monday, having made Tom Latham his landmark victim, in his 75th Test appearance.
It has been a long road, and not always easy. There was the time he was dropped from the team, to be replaced by his younger brother, Albie. There have been the countless, unplayable spells, where he made quality batsmen jump and jab nervously at his back-of-a-length stock delivery, complete with the most awkward of bounces.
Morkel has been there, for a decade and more, even as the numbers that his career have served up haven’t always told the full story. Morkel has been a man of habit, and one of those traits has been taking wickets, even if he was prepared to do the hard, unglamorous yards into the wind, to allow Dale Steyn to fly in with the wind.
On Monday, in Hamilton, Morkel charged in and helped keep his side in the contest, with yet another probing spell.
“They are a quality outfit, they have quality players,” Morkel said of New Zealand.
“Upfront they left very well, they played a patient game and waited for us to attack, and to come a little bit straighter and scored. The wicket is softer, as soon as the ball loses the hardness it is easier to score. I won’t take anything away from the way they batted, Kane (Williamson) was exceptional, the openers played really well.”
Morkel, as big and intimidating as he seems, remains one of the real gentlemen in the game, so he would never dwell on the manner of his 250th Test wicket. The way Latham had left the ball forced Morkel to go round the wicket, an area of expertise that he has got better and better at against left-handers.
And, what’s more, he got it just right soon enough, inducing an edge, and that edge met the unerring left mitt of Quinton de Kock, to complete a wonderful sequence.
In the midst of the celebrations, those teammates who have been with him through the past decade mobbed him and saluted his extended service.
Morkel has been unique in his manner, and he remains a massive part of the Proteas.
When he was injured, he was missed. When he made his return, he was cheered.
And when he raised his arm in a 250th triumph, the rest of the men mobbed him, for they knew that his latest wicket meant as much as his first.
That first, as he well knows, was a flaying MS Dhoni, snaffled by AB de Villiers. Latham was also caught behind the wicket, nabbed out by a wholehearted servant in the Test side. There was a fear, not too long ago, that an uncertain future may convince Morkel to see out his days in the land of Kolpaks.
He has assuaged those fears, by performance and pride therein. Now, Morkel is looking to 300, and beyond.