Morne Morkel will be missed on and off the field. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
It was a Monday morning, November 21, 2011, and to go with the rain that fell across Johannesburg that morning, there were unusually, given the time of year, low temperatures.

The resumption of Australia’s second innings was delayed as the rain poured that morning, and out in the middle of the Wanderers, four security guards were standing, freezing, protecting the covered surface lest anyone use the covers as a ‘slip and slide.’

From the players’ tunnel emerged the lanky figure of Morné Morkel, bringing with him four cups of tea. He handed one to each of the guards, patted them on the shoulder, had a word with each one.

They smiled, Morkel smiled.

It was a moment one of the television cameramen, not required to work at the stage, quickly captured.

This was the Morné Morkel his team-mates knew, the amiable-hearted gentle giant showing appreciation for those helping him with his job and expressing kindness towards his fellow man.

That Test match wasn’t a particularly memorable one for Morkel. He picked up just two wickets  although they were good ones; Michael Clarke in the first innings, Ricky Ponting in the second (his last Test innings in South Africa)  scored six and nought, and bowled six no-balls.

South Africa lost the Test in dramatic fashion by two wickets, and drew the a two-match series.

But Morkel’s tea service remained as a touching moment of kindness.

“It’s a natural thing for him, in many ways he’s a very timid guy, quirky, funny, a story teller behind the scenes, he makes people laugh there are stories that are just hilarious from the various situations he finds himself in,” said Graeme Smith, who was South Africa’s captain in 56 of Morkel’s 86 Test matches.

“He is just a wonderful character behind the scenes, and it’s a pity many people don’t get to see that ... you have to be in an intimate place or behind the scenes with him to get that.”

As a result of people missing that human element and because Morkel has such a gentle persona, he was an easy target for criticism.

“He wasn’t mean enough”, “he wasn’t sufficiently aggressive”, “he was too inconsistent”, “he bowled too many no-balls”, were the constant refrains about Morkel.

During the period in which he captained him, Smith regularly explained how Morkel played the game in his head too much and ripped himself to pieces if he made a mistake.

“A lot of people over the years would have liked him to be a little more mean and nasty, but that’s just not who he is.

“He can get quite technical, he’s very much a confidence person and bowler. When I captained him I worked hard to get him to play the game that was in front of him and not the one that was in his head. He’s got better and better at that over the years which has enabled him to be more successful towards the back end of his career.”

Morkel is in a strange way a victim of the success of others.

“So much of the time he played second fiddle to Vern (Philander) and Dale (Steyn),” Smith commented.

Those two, and more latterly Kagiso Rabada, have hoovered up wickets, making Morkel’s returns, by comparison, appear inadequate.

It’s as if people forget there are only 10 wickets to get per innings, and if Steyn, Philander and Rabada are regularly taking “five-fors” that doesn’t leave a lot of wickets for the rest.

In the series in England last year when Morkel picked up 19 wickets at an average of 26.36, Rabada missed one Test and Philander was ill in one and missed the last match.

Morne Morkel clutches his Proteas badge as he said farewell to Newlands. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Morkel was magnificent, carrying South Africa’s attack with little support at the other end.

And that’s where he was so good - in the support role.

Team-mates get that; they value and appreciate Morkel’s work more than the paying customer or the viewer. Captains like Smith treasure bowlers like Morkel. “He’s a guy who never says ‘no’ to bowling, you can always ask him for an extra over anywhere and he’ll put his hand up.”

And as he pulls the curtain down on his international career, it’s those team-mates who are revelling  even more than the man himself  in Morkel’s recent success and the adulation he is finally getting from supporters and commentators.

“It’s why Cape Town (the third Test against Australia) was so fantastic for Morné,” said Smith.

“The crowd were into it, fully supporting him... and that will be the memories people have of him.

“He’s been a workhorse for South Africa, he made important impacts, and hopefully he’s remembered fondly.”

Sunday Independent

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