Last week saw the retirement of several distinguished batsmen. Michael Clarke left the stage at the age of 34 and his teammate Chris Rogers along with Kumar Sangakkara gave up international cricket for good at the age of 37 after vastly different careers.
In the middle of that age bracket at 36 but less well known to the average cricket fan, is Morne van Wyk, who made his international debut in the same year as Clarke, but never went on to the same heights. In the twelve years since 2003 he’s had six different spells in the South African ODI team and five in the t20 team. Those spells have given him 25 international caps, an average of two and a half games between each time he’s dropped, making the South African wicketkeeper the definition of the fill-in player.
His debut was the immediate prelude to four years out of international cricket, and when he came back, he was dropped from the ODI team after a duck two games later. That was 2007 and later in that year, he was brought back for one match, and a another duck This year he was even dropped from South Africa’s t20 team the game after scoring a hundred. Last in, first out.
Until that hundred, the South African selectors couldn’t be blamed for their stance. Indeed, van Wyk flunked his big chance and longest run in the side, playing five of the seven games at the 2011 World Cup, without anything more substantial than 42 against Ireland.
That was his last international game for nearly four years. His next chance came in January this year, because of an injury to Quinton de Kock, and worries over AB de Villiers’ workload, rather than anything in his own form or skill that suggested a man ready to make an impact at the international level.
His chance may be closing, as de Kock’s three consecutive ‘A’ team hundreds have confirmed his readiness to return to international cricket and with de Villiers also able to take the gloves for limited periods. The South African selectors are unlikely to take a third wicket-keeper batsman to next years World T20, and van Wyk looks set to be the unlucky third man, as he was earlier this year for the 50 over World Cup.
There’s a chance today’s ODI against New Zealand may have been his last international match. He would have been relieved when his top-edged pull was put down by Doug Bracewell at fine leg while he was batting on 17.
Despite that reprieve and a confident start to the game, as his innings went on, he got more and more stuck, only scoring 16 singles, and playing out 71 dot balls overall. Eventually, Grant Elliott made one bounce marginally high on him and he edged to slip. 58 off 100 balls in an ODI will not endear you to the selectors even if it’s his second highest ODI score, that being a reflection of his paucity of playing time more than anything else.
When you’re 36, there are always younger men snapping at your heels. Dane Vilas was the man who replaced him on the tour to Bangladesh, and the 30 year old may have van Wyk’s fate in his future, filling in for the occasional match when de Kock’s injured and de Villiers doesn’t want to take the gloves.
Van Wyk may have looked at this match for one last flourish. His international chances have all come at four year intervals. A debut in 2003, limited chances in 2007, World Cup ignominy in 2011, and finally intervals of filling in for a man 14 years his junior this year. In four years time he will be 40, and that will prove a step too far. It’s now or never for Morne van Wyk.
He looks every inch his 36 years, if not more. The picture in his Cricinfo profile shows him with flowing blonde locks, but his hair isn’t flowing now, and it’s more grey than blonde. All his runs can do is keep him in contention, however many he scores, the younger de Kock and indefatigable genius of de Villiers will outrank him.
He might not mind bowing out from international cricket at at Kingsmead, the site of his one shining moment for South Africa, that t20 hundred in a meaningless dead rubber in a series his team had already lost. It’s also his adoptive home in domestic cricket, playing for the Dolphins the last two seasons. It’s a fitting way to go out, a player who wasn’t quite good enough, playing an innings that wasn’t quite good enough. Maybe it didn’t matter to him, maybe he’d already had his moment.