DURBAN - Before their first practice of the series commenced on Monday morning, the Proteas assembled in the home dressing-room at Kingsmead for a private heads-up.
Morne Morkel, often the clown in the team, wore a sombre look as he informed his teammates that Australia would be his final foe in international cricket.
By all accounts, Morkel is one of the most thoroughly decent blokes in the game, despite his lumbering frame and his bruising line of business. As he announced his impending retirement, the gentle giraffe of the Proteas team looked awkward, as he resolutely shies away from being the centre of attention - especially within the media.
A case in point was on tour to India in 2015, when Morkel walked into a room teeming with local writers in Mohali. He sought the only South African journalist in attendance, and implored him to ask the first few questions, so he could settle at the proverbial crease, before the Indian spin doctors went in on him.
It was a brief, but typical Morkel encounter. As Usman Khawaja, the Australian batsman said straight after the announcement, Morkel was always polite and friendly off the field, often with a goofy smile on his face. And so, when it came to making a decision on his career, the beanpole wanted to get his personal matter out of the way as soon as possible, and hopefully let cricket take centre stage later in the week.
“It was an extremely tough decision, but I feel the time is right to start a new chapter. I have a young family and a foreign wife, and the current demanding international schedule has put a lot of strain on us,” an emotional Morkel, flanked by Cricket SA’s acting chief executive Thabang Moroe and team doctor and manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee, explained.
Morkel, 33, currently sits on 294 Test scalps, after 83 matches of service.
He has bowled better than ever in the last two years or so, employing a fuller, more probing length, and reaping the rewards that he often used to set up for others. On cricket alone, it can’t have been an easy decision.
“There is a World Cup around the corner, but family comes first,” Morkel countered.
Morkel’s wife is Australian, but he explained that a final decision is yet to be made on whether they relocate Down Under or to England.
“I have not thought that far. I didn’t really consult anyone on this. It is a decision that I just feel is the right one for my family and myself,” he said.
“When I look at the team, I think they are in a really good place.
“Guys like Lungi (Ngidi) have come through and immediately done well. I think it is time for me to sit on the side and support them, which I am really looking forward to.”
Morkel said he would miss the close-knit family that he has made at the Proteas, men he has travelled and conquered the world with over the past decade and a bit.
There were too many special memories to pluck just one or two, he added, the finality of that sentiment lumping his throat somewhat.
He puffed a smile, and then resolved to pour all his energy into the remaining four matches. Morkel maintained that he had not signed any deal yet, and he would only explore his options at the conclusion of the four-Test series.
“For now, all of my energy and focus are on helping the Proteas win the upcoming series against Australia. Beating them at home is something that hasn’t been done in a long time, and I’m looking forward to finishing off on a high,” Morkel said.
And with that, Morkel, loped down the three floors from the President’s Suite, and bounded back onto the field to bowl a few, relieving balls out in the middle. It had been a long morning.