In the world of sport, sunsets are not always spectacular. They leave behind not the soothing afterglow of bronze, burgundy and orange but a grayish tinge of melancholy; a faint splash of angst in colours russet, tawny and wan.
In the world of sport, sunsets do not even necessarily come at the right time. That time of evening, when they should, allowing us to look forward to a moonlit night of exquisite beauty with the stars in the sky looking like miniature bulbs lighting the stairway to heaven. In fact, sometimes, sunsets in the world of sport, take away with them the stars themselves, dumping them somewhere in the netherworld of obscurity and leaving the sky, dark and ashen.
Looking at the sky of accomplishment, beautifully blue and clear, with the sun shining bright as ever; the kind of cricketing ambience that one of the greatest bowlers of all-time, Allan Donald was so used to; and then taking one hard look at the same sun that set on him in an atmosphere of almost ghostly silence where the heart warming sounds of the bugles of adulation and the trumpets of triumph were never heard, I mulled over the irrationality of events; the improbability of fate; the unpredictability of life itself.
Allan Donald was a man whom hundreds of thousands of youngsters in South Africa and even in other parts of the world looked up to as a beacon of success worthy of emulation; a man who brought to his country a certain cricketing status by his exemplary deeds as a fast bowler; a man, who with his awesome talent, went on to become legendary; a man whom they called 'White Lightning'.
Lightning, by its very nature they say, never strikes at the same place twice. But this lightning, which also had a name, Allan Donald, never struck even once with any telling effect in World Cup 2003. And therein hangs a tale. Of pathos, of disappointment, of frustration and the inevitability of departure. From the stage that so uniquely belonged to him; on which he had enacted many an act of rare calibre; on which he rode the stallion of success with the visage of a knight; on which he had displayed his heart-stopping range of histrionics; where the cricket ball was the prompter and the whole cricketing world, a mesmerised audience.
It must have been galling; absolutely soul shattering; for Allan Donald to be handed over a show cause notice in front of thousands of his own countrymen by the hand of expectation, questioning him in a manner fit for the mediocre; the pretenders; the masqueraders; the also-rans; as to why he should not be shown the door; as to why he shouldn't be asked to vacate.
A man who was so used to being proffered the silver salver of respectful admiration by his opponents at many a South African cricketing banquet was now being thrown the distasteful crumbs of ignominy. Allan Donald owned cricket's Waldorf Astoria where the most luxurious suite named excellence was his, for life. But then, who guessed that he was mortal too and had to contend with the frailties of age and form. And that the once burning flame of ambition would die down to its last embers. And that he would check out from that suite, almost in disguise; a faceless figure that melted in the dark in the stillness of the night, as it were. Perhaps Allan Donald had overstayed, not knowing that in the cricketing sense, check out time comes much before the '12 Noon' of failure!
When it is time to say goodbye, not too many sportsmen know it. Not too many of them even get an indication. They would like to carry on as if they have partaken of the elixir of eternal youth or life itself. It is perhaps that state of mind they find themselves in, which makes them want to seal and cement their permanence in a sporting arena; that mind-set that makes them soak in the glamour, the fan following, the importance, the status, the ego-massage that comes packaged with stardom.
In recent memory, it is only a Sunil Gavaskar who said goodbye in a manner, which made millions of his countrymen, and perhaps many of the game's die-hards across the world, desperately yearn to gently tug at his shirtsleeve and beg him not to go. The timing of his departure, like almost all his cricketing strokes, was so perfect.
And then of course, there was a Greg Chappell, who in 1984 waved a firm goodbye to the game after a great knock of 182 against the Pakistanis. Garfield Sobers too, displayed the same genius with which he played the game, when it came to deciding the date of his final departure from a cricket field. And a Donald Bradman, notwithstanding the shocking failure in his last innings. But there haven't been too many more that I can think of.
Coming back to World Cup 2003, as it wends its way through the Super Six stage, I cannot but think of all those stalwarts whose careers have come to an end. Not necessarily in the manner of an Allan Donald but in varied circumstances. And with the same mind-numbing inevitability of not being able to see them ever again in a World Cup competition. Or perhaps in any international competition.
Three of the greatest bowlers to have ever held a cricket ball in the game's history -- Shane Warne, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis -- have walked past us, perhaps forever. Jonty Rhodes, on whom the cricket world bestowed deserving greatness for his dream-like athleticism, has taken his last brilliant catch, so to speak. Brian Lara, whose talent was humungous but unfortunately not his single-mindedness to seek success has bid adieu to World Cup cricket. Gary Kirsten, who exemplified dogged determination and looked as if he was born to tackle adversity with a cricket bat in hand, has hit, I presume, the last of his power-packed shots that went screaming to the fence times without number.
Goodbyes bring with them a certain touch of misery. They remind us of the impermanence of existence. Of the inherently short run of sporting lives. The inescapability of having to bow before 'Father Time'. The ephemeral nature of it all. But I'm consoled because goodbyes also leave behind the fragrance of wonderful memories. Of an era gone by. Of the astounding feats of men who graced the world and gave us such joy. On a cricket field. And drove away the bedraggledness of everyday life.