There were many, many people for whom the sight of Gary Kirsten being carried around the Wankhede Stadium would have ranked as surreal as a Salvador Dali painting.
Only two men were lifted higher than the others – and one was Sachin Tendulkar. Even MS Dhoni’s stupendous, match-winning innings didn’t result in a chairlift parade on the shoulders of his teammates.
He didn’t particularly enjoy it, naturally. The smile was a little embarrassed and he was only too happy when he was finally returned to earth. Suddenly there was a visual affirmation of what so many of his friends and teammates had always said about him – that his feet had never left the ground no matter how much success he had enjoyed. Now, even as a World Cup winner, it had taken the efforts of other people to ensure that his feet had left the crowd and moved his head a little closer to the stars.
Next week, when Joshua and James go back to school, Kirsten will return to ‘normal’ life as seamlessly as he left it. He’ll be up early, even before the boys wake up because there’ll be more correspondence to respond to before breakfast than he’s used to, but thereafter it will be cornflakes and toast as usual and the last minute panic looking for junior hockey sticks before joining the morning rush hour en route to the school drop-off area.
It is the ‘normal’ life he has missed so much and for which he now craves. He’ll throw himself into each parent/teacher meeting and school function with gusto and he’ll wake up next to Deborah, in his own bed, with a smile on his face for months to come. He’s even going to play some golf and catch up with his brothers.
Then, when his emotional, physical and spiritual batteries are recharged, he’ll come up for air and look around to see what the world has to offer. Then, and only then, will he truly realise what he has done and how his life will never be the same again.
That’s when he’ll have to decide whether he can offer the same deal to South Africa as he did to India. Or, more pertinently, whether Cricket South Africa and its administrators are prepared to accept him – on his terms.
Greatness is too often conferred on sportsmen who do not merit the description. It is understandable, and maybe even acceptable in a one-off capacity, but for a man or woman to be labelled ‘great’ over the course of his career, their performances need to stand up to the most thorough scrutiny.
Is Rickey Ponting a great batsman? Yes. You will have to look long and hard (outside the ranks of the insane and deeply prejudiced) to find a coherent argument against his greatness as a batsman. But as a ‘cricketer’? And a captain? History will judge, but I fear its verdict will be ‘no.’
Simplistically, Ponting was neither on a hero’s pedestal to be worshipped nor a rags-to-riches story to be admired. He came from a working-class suburb of Sydney where men take their wives to the dog races on Friday nights and go to work with a newspaper in their back pocket on Monday morning.
That true-to-life quality was what endeared him to the vast majority of his players and ensured his longevity. But it may also be what stops him from being remembered as a great captain. Perhaps we need our heroes to be special, or at least to have some special qualities which we can admire and even aspire to. Maybe he was just a bit too much like the rest of us.
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