Morne Morkel announces retirement from Test cricket
South African fast bowler Morne Morkel has announced his retirement from International cricket, effective from the end of the upcoming series against Australia. South Africa will host the Aussies in a four-test series, and Morkel’s career will come to a close at the conclusion of the test commencing on March 30.
His retirement will spell the end of one of the greatest era’s of fast bowling in South African history. Alongside Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, and more recently Kagiso Rabada, South Africa have for many years boasted a pace lineup unrivalled on the world stage.
As of the day before the start of his final series as an International player, Morkel has played 83 Test matches, picking up 294 wickets along the way. Assuming he plays all four Tests against Australia, he will end up with 87 Test matches to his name, and barring an extremely unsuccessful tour, over 300 Test wickets. He will become the 32nd Test cricketer to reach this milestone, and just the fifth South African to do so; joining legendary countrymen Shaun Pollock (421), Dale Steyn (419*), Makhaya Ntini (390), and Allan Donald (330).
The 294 wickets he has so far collected have come at the very respectable average of 28.08, though he often bowled far better than his figures suggested. At 6’5”, or 196cm, and with an incredibly high bowling action, Morkel terrorised batsmen with his sharp bounce and ability to move the ball off the seam. So severe was this seam movement, and so awkward these balls to play, he often proved too good to even draw an edge. If bowling success was determined by an ability to completely bemuse and outplay your opponent, rather than simply wickets, Morkel would be regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
His fast bowling counterparts for much of his career, Steyn, Philander and Rabada, all currently boast averages no higher than 22.32 – significantly lower than Morkel. Though they are all terrific bowlers in their own right, and these figures are indicative of the quality of South African fast bowling in recent years, all would surely credit Morkel with some of their success. His ability to generate pressure at one end was unrivalled, and as is often the case, it’s the bowler at the other end who reaps the rewards.
Regardless, his average of 28.08 is nothing to sneeze at. Among all South African bowlers with at least 100 wickets, he has the 10th best average, ahead of names like Ntini and Jacques Kallis. Morkel has picked up five wickets in an innings just seven times prior the Australian series, a low number considering his talent, but there are still a number of innings which have truly demonstrated his ability to influence a game.
In March 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand, the Kiwis had been set 389 to make in around 80 overs on the final day of the 3rd Test between the two sides. Unsurprisingly they batted for a draw, and were successful, with no South African bowler other than Morkel managing to pick up a wicket. Morkel, however, grabbed six of them. His final figures were 16.4 overs, 7 maidens, 6 wickets for 23 runs.
Two years earlier, India toured South Africa, and in the very first innings of the series were bowled out for just 136 runs. Morkel was dominant, bowling 12.5 overs and picking up 5/20. Though South African had elected to field first, the pitch proved to be playing relatively well, as they promptly came in and scored 4/620.
Perhaps most memorable was his role in the South African demolition of Australia in Cape Town, where Morkel, alongside Philander and Steyn, rolled an Australian batting lineup consisting of names such as Ponting, Clarke and Hussey for just 47 runs. Philander was the main offender with five wickets, but Morkel more than played his part, picking up 3/9 in just 6 overs.
It would be remiss not to also touch on his ODI career, which spanned 117 matches and yielded 188 wickets. He averaged 25.32 in this format of the game, and on many occasions bowled South Africa to victory. He picked up 4/10 from 6 overs against Sri Lanka in 2012, and 4/22 from 10 overs against Australia a couple of years earlier. His 5/38 in New Zealand in 2012 deservedly earned him man of the match honours, as did his 4/39 off 10 overs in India in 2015.
When Morkel’s career comes to an end at the end of March, he will be remembered as one of South Africa’s greatest bowlers, and indeed players, of all time. His figures may not match those of his fast bowling teammates throughout his career, but anyone who watched him will know he was every bit as talented. Former Australian captain Steve Waugh labelled him as 'one of the most underrated players in the world'; hopefully, in retirement, true recognition of his career will come.