The hardest decision in sport

Mark Taylor did it, but only just. Steve Waugh could still do it. Clive Lloyd did it as did Michael Johnson. But Michael Jordan?

Not many South Africans have done it and Allan Donald is the proof of what can happen when you get it wrong. Retiring ‘at the top’ and with dignity is the hardest decision a sportsman can make. It is the one facing Gary and Deborah Kirsten.

Everything seemed straightforward before the tour of England. He set himself the target of two Test centuries before bowing out of the international game with a series win and the captaincy of his beloved Western Province.

But success is the most powerful drug of all in sport, and more addictive than any steroid or pain killer. Gary’s perfect plan may become the victim of his own success.

“I said before this tour it would be my last but the guys are putting some serious heat on me now,” Kirsten admitted after his brilliant man-of-the-match performance against England at Headingley. “I’ll have to go away and have a chat with my six-months pregnant wife and see how we both feel,” Kirsten said. “But I should think the guys will want an answer pretty soon.”

If Kirsten goes to Pakistan for the three back-to-back Tests he will be away for a month and will be back in time for the birth of his first child.

But then the West Indies are in town and he will be required for much of the domestic summer. And then there is a tour to New Zealand in February.

Gary always promised himself, and Deborah, that they would not have a ‘conventional’ cricket family with Dad being away from home and missing developmental stages of his children’s’ lives. It was a sensitive, caring and mature approach and it was also an easy decision to make – a year ago. Now it is very different.

If Kirsten stays on he will become the first South African to make 100 Test appearances and, perhaps, the 21st man in the history of the game to score 20 Test centuries. If he decides to walk away he will be honouring the vows he exchanged with his wife and, at the same time, making the hardest decision of his professional life.

Either way his team mates, family, friends – and don’t forget you, his fans – should applaud and appreciate the dedication and honour he has brought to the team and to South African cricket.

Follow your heart, Gazza. And if you’re still in doubt, listen to Debs.

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