‘Ah, the old man injury!’ That’s what people said when I busted my calf a couple of years ago. At the time I laughed it off because in more than 20 years I’d never suffered any serious injuries, aside from my knee in 2012/13. No back problems or proper muscle tears. I was having a great time on the T20 circuit, playing to 84,000 spectators in Melbourne. Then, last year, I tore my calf again playing for Surrey. At that point I started to worry that it was going to happen all the time. When you sign these T20 contracts the last thing you want is to have to leave after a couple of games. I lost interest very quickly and decided that once I’d fulfilled my obligations over the winter, that was that. I didn’t want to make a big song and dance about retirement. Just a tweet: boots up, over and out, see you later.
I’ve enjoyed watching the reaction in the media. You realise that when you’re playing, people are there to take potshots at you. I didn’t grow up with tall poppy syndrome in South Africa, and I hated it when I started to experience it in the UK. I didn’t want to do press conferences because I hated everything the media stood for, and when they had the opportunity to take me down, they did. But you also know that when sportsmen retire, the potshots have to stop, so people might as well say something nice. Still, I was flabbergasted to read Andrew Strauss say I was the best cricketer he’d played with. He was the one who made me stop! A couple of my buddies were fuming but I laughed and told them not to worry about it. There’s so much water under the bridge now. It’s gone. The only line I really enjoyed was a report that said I was like an annoying alarm clock for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) that kept going off early. I was the first to play in the Indian Premier League, and that contributed to my demise with England. Now they send players off every chance they get. I was always ahead of the ECB and they hated it.
Some things are more important than hitting a cricket ball around. An elephant dies every 15 minutes, and a rhino every eight hours. The last male northern white rhino died two weeks ago. I’m the spokesman for Save our Rhinos Africa/India, which raises money for rhino conservation. I don’t have any time for politics or any of that nonsense — I just want my children to be able to show their children the same animals I showed them, so they can fall in love with Africa just like I did. I’m building a lodge in Kruger National Park. People say put your money where your mouth is: I’m spending millions of my own pounds to conserve Africa’s wildlife.
I like to watch entertainers or interesting passages of play. I’ve been watching the South Africa vs Australia series, which has been engaging and is in the right time zone, but I’m not going to get up at midnight to watch England vs New Zealand. Still, I take no pleasure in seeing them get all out for 58. I’m a positive person, and there are some really good young guys in that set-up. Seeing Steve Smith crying on TV the other day, I really felt for him and the others caught up in the Australian ball-tampering controversy. They’ve made mistakes, but the whole thing has shown the power of social media. The anger and the animosity from the Australian public, and the global community, wouldn’t have been as severe without Twitter and Facebook. If social media had been around for Mike Atherton’s ball-tampering scandal in 1994, he would have been ruined.
People don’t realise how hard cricketing life is on the partners. Cricket wives all deserve prizes. As a player you spend so many nights on the road, and then, when you’re at home, you’re not really there. You’re thinking about the next match, tour or contract. My wife Jessica is happy to have me really home. Now I’m doing the school runs and bath-times. I’m more present than if I had a nine-to-five. If I’m offered work abroad, I’ll only do it if the family can come too. I don’t get much cricket talk at the school gates. What is there to chat about? It’s done. I’d rather talk about golf. I was only successful at Test cricket because I was so fit. I put in the hours off the field to keep my brain strong, which let me make good decisions. I still train hard and I don’t drink much, but now it’s golf that gives me the space to challenge myself. My handicap is six, which makes me competitive. If I go down any more, I won’t be able to make money off friends.
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