TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IT was February 27, 2003. The opposition were Canada. The place was Buffalo Park. You wouldn’t have thought this would be the famous final scene of Allan Donald’s SA career.
But, after 72 tests and 164 one-day internationals, it was. The batsman who received Donald’s fateful last ball – and hit it for four, nogal – was Delhi-born Ashish Bagai, who would become a successful London banker.
Four day-nights later at Kingsmead, a dressingroom full of players, tracksuits and suits didn’t read the Duckworth/Lewis sheet properly and SA kicked themselves out of the 2003 World Cup. At least Donald was spared direct involvement in that indignity: he had been dropped.
Not only was that the end of Donald’s illustrious time in green and gold, the folly of trying to squeeze another drop out of his greatness was over, too.
He was 36. In bowlers’ years, he was at least 10 older. The delivery with which Donald bid farewell to all that was the 87 502nd he had bowled in 863 matches of all descriptions since making his first-class debut 18 years previously.
The lesson should have been learnt a year earlier, when this country’s finest fast bowler of the age and among the best seen anywhere in the game in any era retired from test cricket after the first match of a series against Australia.
Donald took his bow not walking through a guard of honour but writhing on the Wanderers pitch and clutching at his hamstring like a footballer felled by an opponent’s bad breath.
The lesson also wasn’t learnt when the idea of nursing Jacques Kallis to the 2015 World Cup needed a tour to Sri Lanka in July 2014 to be exposed as bad.
“I just knew on that tour I was done,” Kallis said after scoring five runs in those three innings, and plaudits to someone who had spent most of his time at the top at the pinnacle of that top to know the truth when he saw it in the mirror.
But here we are, 13 years after that blustery day in East London (aren’t they all) when Donald bowled his last, and still the lesson has not been learnt.
Names and places have been changed but SA are again guilty of trying to squeeze another drop of greatness out of a well that is drying up fast.
This time, the name is Dale Steyn and the place could be Mumbai, Nagpur, Delhi – where SA will play their group matches in the World T20 – or Kolkata, the venue for the final.
At 32, Steyn has played 448 games at senior level and bowled 36 216 deliveries. That’s little more than half the matches Donald had played and comfortably less than half the balls he had bowled when the writing loomed large on the wall in his last ODI. But, as Steyn’s body keeps telling him and us, he is done.
Not all greats are created equal. But they are all great. Whatever he does or does not accomplish at the WT20, Steyn is a great. Someone tell him that, please.