Last hurrah: Morné Morkel, centre with trophy, celebrates SA’s series triumph over Australia at the Wanderers on Tuesday. It was Morkel’s last international match before retiring. Picture: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS
Last hurrah: Morné Morkel, centre with trophy, celebrates SA’s series triumph over Australia at the Wanderers on Tuesday. It was Morkel’s last international match before retiring. Picture: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS

There is a voice distinct to a particular flavour of Joburger‚ a timbre steeped in hard‚ dirty work done in blue overalls and the raw talk of dodgy bars.

It boomed out of the morning sunshine that toasted the lightly populated Unity Stand on the last day of the fourth Test between SA and Australia at the Wanderers on Tuesday.

"Morkel warm up!"

Morné Morkel was already doing as he had been told‚ wheeling his albatross arms as he walked towards the boundary at the Corlett Drive End.

As he did so he passed Vernon Philander‚ who was on his way back to his mark to bowl another delivery in a dazzling spell of 32 balls that had earned him six wickets for three runs.

Australia were 100/9.

The remaining four balls of Philander’s over were devoid of the snap‚ crackle and pop that had made him unplayable until then. Perhaps because No11 Josh Hazlewood had suddenly learnt how to bat… Perhaps because Philander had suddenly forgotten how to bowl…

Perhaps because a fine bowler and a bloody good bloke could take only one more wicket before he walked off the ground as a Test player for the last time…

Whatever it was‚ Hazlewood blocked two‚ left one and played and missed at the other to keep alive the dream of Morkel adding another wicket to his career total of 309.

Then he came bounding in from the Golf Course End‚ almost two metres tall‚ arms and legs at spiky angles‚ like he had done more than 16,000 times in Tests for the past dozen years — and produced a no-ball. Happily‚ this no-ball did not take a wicket‚ as Morkel has done a record 14 times in Test cricket.

He bowled two overs for seven runs‚ thrice beating Nathan Lyon’s outside edge and once Hazlewood’s. But he did not take a wicket.

Then Morkel was switched to the Corlett Drive End‚ from where Philander had wreaked his havoc‚ to begin what would be his last over as a Test player.

Lyon took two off the first ball‚ defended the second‚ edged a drive towards point for no run off the third and then tried to take two from a limp dab past point. Aiden Markram chased‚ gathered and threw‚ and Quinton de Kock broke the stumps with Lyon out of his ground.

Game over. Series over. Career over.

Morkel walked slowly up the pitch to join his celebrating teammates‚ maybe taking his time to preserve a memory of something he would never be part of again.

Asked if he was secretly peeved at Philander for taking more than his fair share of the available wickets‚ Morkel‚ typically‚ was anything but.

"I’m so happy for Vern‚" he said. "He’s done a lot of hard work the past couple of weeks and it was his moment today to go out and shine."

Morkel suffered an abdominal strain on Sunday and since then he has been operating on "quite a lot of painkillers and one or two injections". But nothing was going to get in the way of him squeezing all he could from his last Test. "I wanted to be on that field more than anything. My main concern was waking up this morning and not being able to move‚ but I managed to get going again."

He probably wanted to be anywhere else but on the field on Saturday‚ when he came to the crease with SA nine wickets down and Temba Bavuma five runs away from a century.

"I sat with Temba in the dugout in PE and we had a nice chat‚ especially about him coming back from a hand injury and wanting to do well for the country. To then be out in the middle with him on 95‚ that chat was in the back of my head.

"I can count the number of times I’ve had to go bat with guys when they’re in the 40s or 90s‚ and I’m like‚ ‘Oh‚ my word’.

"And then I’ve got the quality of Pat Cummins running in. Obviously it’s a beauty of a ball."

Morkel could do nothing but edge it to second slip to end the innings‚ and his viscerally vocal response to his failure was heard hundreds of metres away.

For all his success‚ he has also known disappointment. Sometimes he has not been picked; other times he has kept the pressure on opposing batsmen only to see someone else take most of the wickets.

"There’ve been a couple of mornings where I’ve read the paper and I’ve thought: ‘Wait until I see you guys in the street’. That’s part of the game. It’s part of the reason why I’ve managed to play for 12 years — I wanted to keep getting better‚ I wanted to prove people wrong."

What won’t Morkel be sorry to say goodbye to?

"The no-balls are definitely one thing; I’ve worked bloody hard on getting that sorted.

"I strap both my ankles for every game… it does get uncomfortable. So I’m not going to miss the strapping."

But for this tall drink of water‚ the glass will never be anything other than full. "Not one day did I not enjoy coming to nets. I enjoyed warm-ups‚ I enjoyed everything. I’ve still got love for the game."

Even though it wouldn’t always have felt like it‚ cricket loved Morkel too. Still does. Always will.

TimesLIVE