“Morne Morkel’s sudden decision to retire from international cricket came as a shock for the fans. It’s a huge setback for South Africa and cricket fans all around the world”.
Less than 12 months back Morne Morkel was South Africa’s ‘Player of the series’ in the Test tour of England. In the recent home series against India, he played all three Tests and most importantly, five of the six One-Day Internationals (ODI), which suggests the lanky pacer was very much in contention for the World Cup. In fact, last month during the Centurion Test match, he strongly denied the rumours of a premature retirement.
Well, within one month, those rumours have come true as Morkel decides to quit international cricket following the four-Test series against Australia, which starts on March 1. Remember, he is just 33.
So, all of a sudden what exactly prompted him to take the toughest call of his career?
The author believes, it is his fading form and the lack of assurance of a place in the South African playing XI across formats, which enticed Morkel to look for a more secure option in the English county circuit through a Kolpak deal. And we know the basic requirement of signing a Kolpak contract is to give up the rights to represent the country.
Although in his press conference on Monday (February 26), Morkel claimed that the decision is more personal than professional, but the Protea pacer also mentioned that there is a lot of cricket still left in him and he will continue to play “other leagues”.
“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,” he said.
If speculations are to be believed, Morkel was approached by at least three major English counties (one of those was believed to be Warwickshire) last summer, when he was in England. His father has recently revealed it in an interview with an Indian newspaper.
Furthermore, with the quota system in place as well as the emergence of quality coloured pacers like Lungi Ngidi and Junior Dala, an ageing Morkel wouldn’t have been a first-choice option in the South African playing XI in red and white-ball cricket. In the Test side, based on the current form, Morkel seems like the fourth-choice pacer after Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi. Whereas his white-ball form has been pathetic of late as he claimed only two scalps in the recent ODI series against India. And of course, his international T20 career was all but over.
Not only that, even in a full-strength squad of the Titans, Morkel’s domestic team, there is no guarantee of a place in the final XI as the team management has to accommodate six coloured cricketers and top white players like Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers Dean Elgar, Albie Morkel and Heinrich Klaasen play for them.
Hence, amid such insecurities, heading towards county cricket seems like the most suitable option for Morkel, who has 529 international scalps to his name. At 33, he couldn’t have waited much longer. In the county circuit, he can at least continue to play as a first-choice option and sustain as a professional.
The Australia series, which is the final assignment of the Proteas at home in this season ends on April 3, right before the English county season. So, the pacer will get enough time to sign a Kolpak deal after fulfilling his final commitments in South African colours.
In the past, South Africa have lost several players, including Kyle Abbott, David Wiese, Rilee Rossouw, Colin Ingram, Stiaan van Zyl, Simon Harmer, Dane Vilas and Hardus Viljoen to Kolpak deals and now it seems Morkel’s name will be the latest addition to this list.
In a recent chat with the author, former South Africa all-rounder, Lance Klusener expressed his concerns on this trend of South African players choosing to settle down in England signing a Kolkpak. But he was not ready to blame the players.
“Look, those who are not certain about their place in the team, are going there,” he said before adding, “It is a concern for South African cricket, but you cannot blame the players. Everyone needs a secure life.”