Former Proteas batsman HD ACKERMAN says Dale Steyn should play for as long as he possibly can; until he knows he has nothing left to give to the game.
Choosing to retire is the toughest decision a cricketer has to make. I don’t think you ever really know when you want to retire, because very few leave the game and don’t regret their decision. You start to ask questions of yourself. I still see the ball, I still understand the game … could I not have continued to play? Do I miss the game? Do I miss the camaraderie? Do I miss the glamour?
Personally, it was a tough decision to make. I retired when I was 36; I loved the game, but my wife was pregnant and I wanted to be around the family. I still constantly ask myself if I could have carried on playing.
In the modern game, I think it’s even tougher to leave. You’ve been looked after for so long, you’re well paid, you fly business class everywhere, you go see the sights, the shows and the concerts, and they’re all organised for you. It’s a glamorous life, especially if you’re single. But these days you can take your family everywhere too.
When you approach your thirties, though, it starts getting a bit tougher to get out of bed in the morning. The warm-ups start to become less enjoyable and you pick up weight easily. Reality starts to hit home and you start asking yourself how you’re going to generate income after you retire.
And that’s where Dale Steyn is at. The injuries are starting to become more frequent. He can’t bowl at the speed of sound any more. It’s not Dale; it’s just life, and sometimes you wish that every great cricketer could play forever, but the game, and the world, moves on. Dale obviously feels there’s some unfinished business.
He’s five wickets away from surpassing Shaun Pollock’s all-time Test-wicket tally. I don’t think he’s thinking too much about that, though, he just loves the game.
I don’t think we’ll ever see the same Dale Steyn again. We might see a spell here and there, but he won’t have the pace. The selectors chose him for the SA A tour to face England, but Steyn took it upon himself to rule himself out due to his ongoing recovery. Only he will know if he’s got what it takes to return in time for the home summer.
I would love to see him have another crack at it. He’s got one of the best fast-bowling records in the history of the game. A few months ago everyone was saying that Morne Morkel was done, but he’s proved he still has enough left in the tank. What Steyn and Morkel have done is sustain themselves long enough to ease in the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier.
When Allan Donald retired, we all mourned his loss. Then Steyn came through and we were amazed again. Now Rabada has come through and we all feel like we’ve been saved. South Africa has a conveyer belt of talent, and we will continue to bring through the next big thing.
Steyn has done his bit, but if he feels he’s still got a lot to offer to cricket, he must carry on playing for as long as he can, because it’s not easy to leave the game.
– This column first appeared in the July-September 2017 issue of SA Cricket magazine