Icons are also human

South Africa played against a New South Wales XI at the Bowral Oval three years ago and for many of us on tour it was the first chance we’d ever had to see the famous Sir Donald Bradman museum. It was an unexpected experience, if bald truth be told.

The players expressed some interest in seeing the museum because, well, they were international cricketers and they knew they ‘should’ see it. They were expecting a 10-minute whizz around the place and back out into the fresh air.

As a journalist I, too, knew I ‘ought’ to look around for a lot longer than 10 minutes because, well, I should know all about the greatest batsman ever to live and my facts should not be confused. Not that I didn’t know about the Don’s feats, of course, but I didn’t know much about the man – the character. What made him tick.

Needless to say the entire squad spent far more than 10 minutes in the museum and I spent three-and-a-half hours, missing all but 45 minutes of a Herchelle Gibbs century out on the park. Gibbs, meanwhile, was grumbling about the hopelessly small changing rooms.

“I don’t suppose it mattered in his day,” Herschelle observed. “No one else needed to bring their coffins – he just batted all day and this team mates just fielded or stood at the other end and watched.”

I have always been fascinated by the make-up of a genius, and the inevitable character flaws that seem to accompany it. Name a sporting genius from 1960 onwards who didn’t get into trouble and/or hit the headlines for the wrong reasons as well as the right ones.

The Don, too, could be aloof and unapproachable. He had huge fights with some of his team mates and had tendencies towards extreme selfishness, all of which only made him more human and therefore more endearing, in my mind.

Maybe the reason I spent three-and-a-half hours in the museum was because I looked so hard for any sign or admission of this ‘human’ side. There was none. I asked an Australian colleague (who had spent the previous week writing with gay abandon about Shane Warne’s drinking, eating and shagging habits) why that was. Why pretend he was such a perfect person, as well as the perfect batsman, I wondered. “Don’t piss on statues,” my friend growled.

I must say that in 10 weeks on tour in Australia I had witnessed many, many men relieving themselves in public places, and none of them seemed very concerned about where they did it. But I suppose I knew what my colleague meant. We all need our heroes, and we need them to be perfect.

Rest in peace, Sir Donald. You will remain perfect.

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