Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn were buddies from day one – even if the man from Phalaborwa caught the lanky Morkel by surprise at first.
“Ya, Steyntjie rocked up, with hair all the way to his shoulders, and he liked skateboards. He was a bit out there, but he could bowl!,”Morkel recalls of his best buddy.
By the time Steyn joined a Multiply Titans squad that had future legends like AB de Villiers and Fad du Plessis in its ranks, his reputation as a tearaway proceeded him. Morkel and Steyn hit it off immediately, and it was one of the summer's most enduring images to see Steyn in a Morkel replica jersey when the big guy reached 300 Test wickets recently.
“Dale and I got on like a house on fire, and that is what makes cricket special,” Morkel explained.
“The friendships that you make last forever, and that has been certainly the case at the Titans. Guys like Faf, AB and obviously Dale, they have become very close to me. I think the Titans culture also allows that, and it helps that there have been so many coming through into the national set-up,” he added.
Morkel joined his big brother Albie in the set-up, but he has formed another band of brothers along the journey. Before they truly made it, they enjoyed a special occasion – when the Titans beat the Proteas in a warm-up game.
“We were so pumped up for the match. For us, at that stage of our careers, that game was like a big final. We played hard and, when we finally won, we celebrated like we had won a trophy! We had a huge braai, and we were honestly chuffed. We had beaten the South African team, and we thought it was the best thing ever,” Morkel laughed.
But, as he got into the Proteas set-up, he soon realised that he and mates from years before had been duped.
“When you get into the national set-up, you realise how chilled the guys are about a warm-up game. You operate at a much lower intensity, and it is more about getting rhythm ahead of the really big games. To think of the way we celebrated that night back in the apartments,” he winced.
There were other big days for Morkel at Supersport Park Centurion, however, and those ones definitely mattered.
“Winning trophies with the Titans was special. I remember when we won the T20 tournament, and we had a big party. What stood out for me was the camaraderie between the senior players and the young guys. Legends like Gerald Dros, Martin van Jaarsveld and Kempie, you need characters like that in the dressing-room. I think that is one thing you don’t really see too much of in the modern game, and that is a bit sad,” Morkel said.
As he wraps up his journey in South African cricket, Morkel said that he would always look back at the only franchise he turned out for with a great sense of pride.
“It is such a professional set-up, and you get the sense that everyone in franchise cricket wants to play for the Titans at some stage. The staff go out of their way to make the players happy, and there are always people in the stands or on the grass to support. That shows that people care about the franchise, and that makes it a special place for me.”