JOHANNESBURG – “We have probably given him about five or six farewells already,” Faf du Plessis joked about the departing Morné Morkel, as he bid farewell to the international stage on Tuesday.
For the good guys, goodbyes are long, drawn-out affairs.
On the fourth day, as he waited to get on the team bus, a gaggle of fans piped up: “We call on Morné to give us a wave – give us a wave!”
Naturally, the gentle giant obliged. By the end of his final press conference as a Proteas player, Morkel’s eyes were red with pride and reflection on a career that was a lesson in humility and endeavour.
“A lot of guys (who retire) say they don’t miss the game, but I’m definitely going to miss it,” he said.
“Not one day did I not enjoy coming to the nets and warm-ups… I enjoyed everything. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss it. I still have a love of the game.”
Morkel’s long goodbye started in front of friends and family in Cape Town, where he went past 300 Test wickets, won man of the match, and the plaudits that have often escaped his clutches.
“When you play in front of your home crowd, like Newlands and here for the first couple of days, it is amazing,” he beamed.
“Those are the sort of things I’m going to miss a lot. I’m really going to miss the banter in the change-room, but I’m also excited for the new guy that’s going to come into the team and enjoy this journey.”
Morkel has one last job to do, as he has to name his predecessor as the song-master in the team. They are massive shoes to fill, and the beanpole says the jury is still out.
“Quinton de Kock is leading it so far. I have slowly introduced him to the team, but it is a big responsibility. It’s not going too well, and he is a bit of a rough diamond!”
That side of Morkel, the jovial team man, is one that is highly cherished by the few who have shared the field with him.
For his part, he has embraced the culture within, and taken the privilege of playing for the Proteas as seriously as his batting.
“As a youngster, I watched cricket and saw that South Africa had a tough time overseas. When we beat Australia the first time and (Jacques) Kallis was crying on the bus, you sort of realised what it meant,” he said of his first tour Down Under.
Well done Proteas. Great series win against Aus. Congrats @mornemorkel65 on a fantastic career.
His batting ended on a mortifying note, as he left Temba Bavuma stranded on 95 not out.
“You know, I had a long chat with Temba in PE in the dug-out, about cricket and him coming back from his hand injury and doing well for the team.
“I was so hoping that Keshav (Maharaj) could just build the partnership, because I can remember the number of times I have had to bat with people in the 40s and 90s,” he sighed.
“I was confident I could hang around with Temba, but it was a beauty of a ball. It was obviously disappointing – and I also didn’t get the chance to give the crowd a chance to cheer for another ‘Haydos’ boundary!”
Morkel leaves the team in a great place, and he fully expects them to be a factor in the 2019 World Cup, where he won’t be.
Not landing the showpiece is perhaps his biggest regret, as his lasting memory is sitting on the Auckland outfield, inconsolably pondering what might have been against New Zealand in that semi-final.
There were also tears on the final day of Test cricket at The Wanderers, but they were borne from joy, and pride, and a tsunami of international well-wishes from one of the game’s great gentlemen.