Morne Morkel provided an assurance that he has not signed a contract with any other team, “out of respect” to Cricket South Africa, as suggestions his retirement is a result of a Kolpak deal mount.
Morkel has been linked with several counties since South Africa toured England last year. His retirement from the international game comes at the end of the South African summer and would be well timed for him to play the 2018 season in England but he would not confirm if that was in his plans. Instead, Morkel only said he would look into participating in T20 leagues and maintained his decision to end his international career was more personal than professional.
“It’s a family decision. I’ve put a lot thought into it,” he said. “It’s the right time for me to start a new chapter. For clarity’s sake, I’ve got a young family, I’ve got a foreign wife. I still feel great mentally and physically, and yes, I will be playing in other leagues around the world. Out of respect to CSA I have not put pen to paper on any deal. My focus is 100% on winning this series. I’ll make a decision once everything is done.”
Morkel is married to an Australian, Roz Kelly, who works on the television production of the Big Bash. She and their young son, Arias, have spent the last two Big Bash tournaments in Australia while Morkel played in South Africa, having turned down offers to play in the BBL.
He admitted the separation was tough, even though he was willing to go through it for the chance to play at the top level. “Cricket is what I love and I’ve done it all my life, so it was a very tough decision,” Morkel said. “Playing for the Proteas is something very special, but family comes first. My wife and my family was away for 10 weeks now for work commitments, which was very tricky for me. Sitting them down, and discussing it with family, we decided — I decided — it’s better for me to start a chapter with them and focus more on family.”
What will surprise South Africans most about Morkel’s retirement is that he is hanging up his boots while at the top of his game. Morkel was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker against England, has developed an impressive ability to pitch the ball up and find swing, and was among the candidates for the World Cup. Morkel had earlier said he would decide on his future once he knew if he was in contention for the tournament. He played five of the six ODIs against India, which suggested he was very much part of the group, but is satisfied that the younger quicks have what it takes to succeed at major tournaments. And he offered to lend an ear if they ever need it
“I honestly think the crop of fast bowlers we have in the squad, give them a couple of months under Ottis [Gibson] and in this environment, they’ll be more than capable of winning that trophy for us,” Morkel said. “I think they’re in a very happy place. Unfortunately things didn’t go our way in the white-ball formats against India, but give guys time, give them overs, give them the opportunity to grow. I’m very positive about and confident in the culture of the senior guys in the squad that these guys will grow. I’m always going to be a phone call away for the younger guys who want to have a chat.”
Like so many who retire from cricket, Morkel said he would miss the dressing-room environment and his team-mates. “The culture we’ve created over the past couple of years is something special,” he said. “Walking out with the guys on to the field. The resilience we’ve shown as a team over the years is very close to my heart.”
Asked to think of a standout memory, Morkel struggled to pinpoint one but Test victories away from home featured high on his list. “To think of one now is quite tricky. There are so many,” he said. “When I made my debut here in 2006 against India was very special. Becoming the No. 1 Test team in the world, beating Australia, England in England, there’s so many running through my mind.”
The one thing neither Morkel nor anyone else in the squad has done is beat Australia at home and Morkel will have an opportunity to change that over the next five weeks. He is particularly looking forward to his battle with Australia’s opening batsman David Warner and to finishing on a high.
“I’ve always enjoyed the battle against Davey. He’s a quality player. He comes hard at the ball and that brings the best out of me because I know I need to be on the money from ball one,” Morkel said. “We’re close friends and I’m very excited to end off with an exciting series here in my backyard against a quality team.”
Morkel will not, however, get the opportunity to say goodbye to the SuperSport Park faithful, in front of whom his career started. There is no Test at Centurion in this series.