It's been a lot of hard work over the 12 years - Morkel

Before Morne Morkel celebrates a wicket, he looks up at the big screen to double check that he has not overstepped. Before he celebrated his 300th Test wicket, he may have double checked with a little more trepidation.

But when Morkel saw that his foot was behind the line and Shaun Marsh had nicked off, he celebrated with more gusto than usual. Animated air punches and screams of delight were followed by a group hug with his team-mates and some personal time to acknowledge the crowd.

He had done it. Morkel had reached 300.

"It's a special feeling, especially because I am the world record holder for the most [wickets off] no-balls," Morkel joked afterwards. "When I got the first one, I had to turn around and see if it was a legal delivery. And then second one and third one. To reach it is something I have worked hard on for a long time and to get it at this amazing venue made it even better. It meant quite a lot to get that wicket. I have really worked hard. I wasn't blessed with natural talent to run up and hit a length. For me, over the 12 years it's been a lot of hard work. To get that was an achievement, I was proud of myself to get that milestone."

Morkel could have had 315 Test wickets to his name to date, but the 14 missing from his record were taken off no-balls and he has now found a way to laugh them off. But only now that he has reached the 300 mark in what is his penultimate Test.

Before this series began, Morkel announced his retirement at its end and by midway through the contest, he may have thought his career was over already. He was left out of the second Test at St George's Park after a relatively indifferent performance in the first match at Kingsmead. His replacement, Lungi Ngidi, bowled well and was set to play at Newlands before a toe niggle kept him out and gave Morkel the chance for what could be a final hurrah.

"You think about those sorts of things, especially with Lungi and the guys bowling so well. Luckily for me, I got an opportunity with Lungi picking up a small niggle and I knew it was my Test match to do it," Morkel said. "I put in a lot of hard work over the week, especially in PE. I sat down for hours and analysed my Durban spells and things I needed to improve on and worked hard."

Morkel's challenge has always been to get his lengths right because he tends to err on the shorter side, given his height. At Newlands, where he found extra bounce from the Wynberg End, that length worked and for once, Morkel could just be himself. "Of late, the Newlands wicket, there is a little bit of extra bounce.There was a little bit of extra bounce on a fifth stump line. It was my game plan to run in and hit an area quite hard and trying to get some extra bounce and there were one or two cracks as well," he said.

That bounce and those cracks have led Morkel to believe that the strip will become more difficult to bat on as the match goes on and that with a lead of around 60, South Africa can look to apply pressure on Australia. But first they need one more wicket and though Morkel has 301 to celebrate, it's the scalp he still needs to get that he is most concerned about.

"The main thing for me is to stay in the moment. There's still a second innings, a Test match to be won and still one more in Jo'burg and that's my focus. I want to be part of this team to beat Australia for the first time in South Africa. That's my goal," he said.

And it is his last goal as an international cricketer. Winning a World Cup is not something Morkel has given himself the opportunity to experience, because he is leaving the stage before then. Winning a Test Championship is also not something he will do, though his recent form and fitness suggest he could keep playing. "My body is still feeling great. Mentally I am still feeling fantastic. I am still feeling good. I can still play for a coupe of years. But it was a family decision. I've made that call, once you've made your mind up, you can't really turn back on your decision. I'd rather go out on a high now than having a few average games and the love is gone."

Right now, the appreciation for Morkel is everywhere, especially on the big screen.

On day one, it regularly showed images of Morkel's long-time team-mate Dale Steyn sitting at Newlands, wearing Morkel's one-day shirt with the number 65 on it, supporting it. "That's very special. To see a team-mate that has been beside me for so long supporting me was amazing," Morkel said.

On day two, it showed Morkel's wife, Roz Kelly, and their two-year old son, Arias, applauding his achievements.

For the next three days, it will show many others, sending Morkel off with warm hearts. And it will also show some replays of Morkel and the line, which he will keep double checking if he thinks he can add to his tally.