Sport

Kallis’ retirement and the five stages of grief

By Antoinette Muller 1 August 2014

Jacques Kallis has played his final international game in South African colours. The end of his career has come quietly and gracefully, but it was not unexpected, and the five stages of grief have been building up since he called time on his Test career. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

A great loss is often easier to bear when it is expected. Like a pet that has been ill for a while or the orchid that doesn’t bloom again, loss is easier when it is anticipated, but that doesn’t mean it won’t leave you breathless.

On Wednesday, Jacques Kallis announced his retirement from all international cricket after saying he realised his dream to play in another World Cup was a bridge too far. He’ll continue playing T20 cricket, but he’ll never step out in South African colours again. After retiring from Tests last year, the announcement was always coming. Many expected it only after the World Cup, others thought it should have already happened.

Kallis, like many other sporting greats of South Africa, never quite got the praise he deserved. Where there should have been solace, there was discord. Where there should have been exhilaration, there was scorn. Now, after almost two-decades of playing cricket, Kallis will do so no more for his country. His full international retirement has come without the fanfare of others; it’s come quietly, but expected and it has been drumming up the five stages of grief since it first started spinning into existence.

At first, there was denial; from his fans and detractors, denial that he is still able to perform at the highest level, denial that he, as somebody who has played cricket for so long, knows his game and his body best. It wasn’t quite the usual denial that comes with grief. Instead, as it always seems to be when South African sportsmen retire, there was denying him a graceful Test exit, on his terms and on his home turf. And, to an extent, there was denial of his greatness because the albatross of form had weighed so heavily around his neck.

Anger soon followed. Anger that Kallis was included in the ODI squad for Sri Lanka, anger that he’d retired from Tests and not the shorter formats and, for some, anger that it had not come sooner. When he failed to score runs and couldn’t bowl in Sri Lanka, there was anger over that, too. South African batsmen underperforming in the subcontinent is nothing strange, thus, Kallis’ stumbles in Sri Lanka were nothing unusual, but still, it evoked the fire in the belly of sports fans who are prone to irrational outbursts, consumed by emotion. South African sports fans are a passionate bunch, and anger is a passionate emotion.

The Bargaining came mostly from the man himself. If he gave up Tests, maybe he could stretch his body that extra little bit more. But there was some bargaining from his fans, too. Bargaining that, perhaps if they just give him the chance he deserves, he would prove himself. Bargaining that giving up bowling might help him extend his career, even though the old bones might have different ideas. Bargaining that perhaps, their King Kallis will finally walk away with that elusive World Cup, if only he manages to regain the form that every sportsman loses, but the older doubt will return.

Depression is the intermediate step and will probably come thick and fast for some. The absence in the Test team has already become easier, but the absence in international colours will be a different beast altogether. When you spend most of your life watching somebody in a team play so gracefully, so effortlessly, so calmly, the gap is hard to fill. The thought that they will never play in national colours again can hit like a ton of bricks. The thought that there will possibly never be anyone quite like him, who so embodied the perfect cricketer in so many different ways. From his patience at the crease to patience with smiling for endless photos and signing endless numbers of autographs.

Now that it is all over, there can be acceptance. Acceptance that Kallis deserved a chance to prove himself, that he deserved a chance to try and have one more shot at his dream. Acceptance he is one of the greatest cricketers to have ever played the game. And, there should be acceptance that, to an extent, Kallis’ servitude to South African cricket has allowed him to do whatever the hell he pleases. There can now be acceptance that South Africa – and the world – will not see another player like Kallis again. Acceptance that he is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most famous sons and even if his career winded down like a fast setting son, his legacy remains untarnished and will continue to shine on for generations to come. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Jacques Kallis laughs during a training session before their second cricket test match against England at Kingsmead in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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