Morné Morkel is surrounded by his teammates after dismissing Shaun Marsh on Friday, his 300th Test wicket. Photo: Phando Jikelo/ANA Pictures

CAPE TOWN – When you see Morné Morkel up close and personal, you’d think he wouldn’t look out of place in a Springbok rugby team.

Standing 1.96m and with a solid frame to boot, Morkel could’ve been a force as a tall blindside flank or even a lock.

But rugby’s loss has certainly been cricket’s gain.

There has always been a nagging feeling that he could’ve taken more wickets had he “discovered” the fuller length that he has been bowling for the past 12 to 18 months, but Morkel has always been a tough customer to face because of the awkward bounce he generates off a good length due to his height.

And when he claimed his 300th Test wicket at Newlands on Friday – dismissing Shaun Marsh for 26 at a crucial stage of the day – Morkel drew a bold line under his career once and for all as there’s now no doubt that he ranks as one of the great fast bowlers in Proteas history.

Despite his imposing presence, Morkel looked like a giant deer caught in the headlights when facing the media at the end of a long day, having ended with figures of 4/87 in 20 overs.

For someone so larger than life, he clearly doesn’t like the spotlight – he was visibly nervous – but the absolute joy of reaching the 300 milestone was etched on his face.

This is what he wanted to achieve after announcing his retirement from international cricket before the start of the Australian series.

He admitted that having been left out of the second Test in Port Elizabeth, and with Lungi Ngidi having bowled well in that game, he wondered whether he would get an opportunity to become the fifth South African in the 300 club.

“To be honest, it was a bit of a blur. For me, it meant quite a lot to get that wicket,” Morkel said about the moment he got rid of Marsh.

“I’ve really, really worked hard. I think I’ve said… I wasn’t sort of blessed with that natural talent to run up and hit a length, so for me over these 12 years, it was a lot of hard work.

“To get that is just a sort of achievement, and ja, I think I’m proud of myself to get that milestone.”

Morné Morkel speaks to the media at Newlands on Friday evening after taking his 300th Test wicket for the Proteas. Video: Ashfak Mohamed

Such is his form that he could easily continue playing Test cricket especially, but the 33-year-old Morkel is adamant that he is content with his decision to retire.

“My body is still feeling great, and mentally I’m feeling fantastic. I felt a bit rusty after not playing for a while, but it is a family decision (to retire). I would rather go out on a high now than have a few average games,” he said.

“I appreciate the crowd getting behind me with the applause, but there’s still one more to go after this in Joburg. My goal is to be part of the first team to beat Australia in South Africa.”

Proteas fans will hope that dream comes true.

But on another fascinating day of Test cricket on Friday, Morné Morkel proved that nice guys can win too.

IOL Sport