CAPE TOWN - Even when Morne Morkel was busy taking his 300th Test wicket, the cameras still focused on Dale Steyn.
It has pretty much been like that throughout Morkel’s 85-match Test career, which is now just one Test away from completion. And even though Steyn has not been alongside his good mate in the heat of battle for the best part of the past two years due to injury, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada were still there to steal the headlines.
It was if Morkel’s destiny was to be the able sidekick, but never the actual superhero.
All that changed in the most dramatic of third Tests at Newlands, and more specifically, on an adrenalin-charged Sunday. Morkel showed no mercy on an Australian team that had been ravaged by ball-tampering admissions from their captain Steve Smith and opener Cameron Bancroft.
Like a vulture swooping on a carcass in the safari, Morkel helped himself to a career-best 5/23 and match-figures of 9/110.
“Everything happened so quickly out there. At one stage I thought it was going to be a grind. Keshav (Maharaj) got the ball rolling and from there, there was just a buzz in the field, an edge in the field. I’m just happy we could wrap it up,” Morkel said after bowling the Proteas to a 322-run victory and 2-1 series lead.
“It was very special. I tried to enjoy it as much as possible,” before adding that there was no going back on his decision to leave international cricket.
“It is tough, especially leaving a quality group of men in the changeroom. It’s going to be sad, but all good things come to an end.”
Morkel certainly leaves the Proteas with their fast bowling stocks in solid shape. Despite the Kolpak departures of Kyle Abbott and Hardus Viljoen over the past 18 months, there are still a host of youngsters eager to fill his size 13 shoes out on the field.
Couldn’t be more happy for this man! Great achievement bud, I just wish I was on the field to celebrate it with you. #300 club
Still a big few days to go, but tonight it’s all about this man 👌🏼🏏 @mornemorkel65 pic.twitter.com/JYSh0YcaUa
Lungi Ngidi has shown great promise in his brief Test career and would actually have played at Newlands at Morkel’s expense were it not for a sore toe, while Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris are waiting in the wings.
However, it is not just Morkel’s pace and bounce that will be missed after this week’s fourth and final Test at the Wanderers, but rather his overall contribution to the Proteas’ team morale.
“There’s a lot of good stuff that has been said over the last while about Morne,” Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said. “Morne has been - for the first six-eight years of his career - the guy who went unnoticed. He was the workhorse. He got his two- or three-fors.
Congrats @mornemorkel65 on his 300th test wicket and the Man of the Match performance. A team man if there ever was one! So happy 😁
“Only captains really appreciate the work that someone like Morne does. He is not the guy who gets the five-fors like Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada who get them on regular occasions.
“Morne does the donkey work and runs in all day. He never says he’s bowled enough. You tell him that he’s bowled enough but still, he wants to bowl more. That’s a captain’s dream.
“He’s going to be missed in our team. He’s been almost the mother figure in the team with a big heart. We’re going to miss that. We understand his decision (to retire). It’s a decision for his future and his family so he knows the team backs him up 100%.”
There have been a few players on both sides who have behaved contrary to the spirit of the game during this highly-controversial series, but there are some days - like a heaving Sunday at Newlands - that “Mother Cricket” does indeed shine on one of the good guys of the game.
Nice guys don’t always finish last. well done @mornemorkel65