On day of tears, Morkel given final bow

Morne Morkel (Gallo)
Morne Morkel (Gallo)

Johannesburg - Thursday, March 29, 2018 will go down in the cricketing world as the day two Australian greats were reduced to tears. 

READ: Tributes pour in ahead of Morkel's final Test

First, disgraced captain Steve Smith broke down in front of media at Sydney Airport when he apologised to an infuriated nation for his role in Australia's exposed Newlands ball-tampering plot. 

Smith has been sacked as captain, banned from the sport for a year, lost his IPL contract with the Rajasthan Royals and, most importantly, has lost the respect of thousands, if not millions, of Australian cricket fans. 

It was hard not to sympathise with the 28-year-old on Thursday, and even Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said he felt for the No 1-ranked batsman in Test cricket

Later in the day, the focus moved back to South Africa where a shattered Darren Lehmann resigned as coach of the national side

Lehmann, with the backing of Cricket Australia (CA), maintains that he knew nothing of the elaborate plan to illegally tamper with the ball at Newlands last weekend. 

He says the decision to step down was his own, and the tears flowed as he said his goodbyes to a job that he has been in for nearly five years. 

Once again, any talk of the cricket was lost at both the Australian and South African pre-Test press conferences. 

Du Plessis found himself talking almost solely about the ball-tampering incident and the bans that followed, while Lehmann's press conference was cut short due to its emotional nature. 

Du Plessis did have time, however, to confirm that South Africa will be fielding an unchanged side for the fourth Test at the Wanderers. 

That means that Morne Morkel will play in a South African shirt for the final time

The lanky fast bowler won the man-of-the-match award in the third Test in Newlands for claiming nine wickets in the contest and, in the process, became just the fifth South African to take 300 Test wickets. 

That achievement was almost completely overshadowed by the controversy that followed, and his departure from Test cricket has also taken a back seat as Australian cricket continues to crumble. 

Morkel is also no stranger to tears, though they are remembered under very different circumstances. 

Images of the 33-year-old in a heap on the Eden Park turf will stay with South African cricket fans forever. The Proteas had just been knocked out of the semi-finals of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, and Morkel was distraught.

He will not play in another World Cup - that much is certain - but Morkel will at least have one last hurrah in national colours. 

And, regardless of what happens at the Wanderers, he will go out on a high. 

There are many who feel that Morkel is bowling better than he ever has, but there is no turning back and he will honour his decision to step away from the international game following the completion of the Wanderers Test.

"All this nonsense is a reminder for everyone that it is actually taking too much attention away from the game," Du Plessis said, responding to the endless controversy that has accompanied this series from start to finish.

"I would like to sit here today and speak about Morne Morkel’s last Test match and what he has contributed and us as a team being on the verge of creating history, and we’re spending so much time talking about other stuff.

"This series has been so draining. We as a team are feeling the blow-out as well. We’re actually feeling drained because there is so much stuff going on that I cannot imagine what it feels like in their dressing room.

"It’s important for me that we don’t lose our mental edge because this is a huge game for us."

READ: 3 cricketing greats slam Smith's shocking airport treatment

Australia, meanwhile, will make at least three changes to their team with Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all banned. 

Play on Friday will start at 10:00.

READ: Emotional ball-tamperer Bancroft breaks his silence


South Africa

Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (captain), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Morne Morkel



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