Gary Kirsten: nearing the 100 mark
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South Africa's batting rock, Gary Kirsten, didn't have the slightest doubt about withdrawing from the first Test against West Indies - but neither does he have any doubt about extending his career in pursuit of 100 caps and 20 centuries.

Kirsten, who has just turned 36, had originally intended to retire from the game after this year's tour of England, but two centuries and a plea from South Africa's new young captain Graeme Smith persuaded him to stay on.

When Nasser Hussain quit the England captaincy but then said he wanted to stay on to play 100 Tests, he was pilloried by Ian Botham, among others, for being selfish and placing individual goals and desires ahead of those of the team. But there are some very key differences between Hussain and Kirsten's situations, however. Hussain had played 84 Tests and had a batting average of 36. He had already endured speculation about the worth of his place in the team, and had been saved by his status as skipper on more than one occasion.

Kirsten, meanwhile, has played 95 Tests and has an average of almost 45. He is also just one century away from becoming only the 21st player in the history of the game to reach 20 hundreds. Needless to say he is far and away his country's leading runscorer, and it is the chance to extend his national records that drives Kirsten on.

"Of course I'd like to score 7000 runs, and 20 hundreds, and I'd love to have 100 Test caps, but I'd like it as much for South Africa and South African cricket as I would for me," Kirsten said after making his decision to stand down from the first Test. "There is nothing wrong with setting personal goals but I also want to set goals for the next generation, and maybe even the generation after that. I actually feel proud that cricketers in the years to come might say 'I want to be the second South African to score 7000 runs, or to play 100 Tests'. There's nothing wrong with that."

Kirsten went on: "But all that aside, personal or team goals, if I wasn't performing then I would have retired when I originally intended to. It's one thing to leave a positive legacy and memory to the next generation but quite another for people to think 'Oh yeah, Gary Kirsten - he hung aroung too long, didn't he?' I'm pretty confident that won't happen to me."

Kirsten has said he definitely won't play on beyond South Africa's tour of New Zealand in February and March. So if he plays the final three Tests against West Indies, and three against NZ, he would finish with 101 caps. That's in theory. As for run-aggregates and centuries, Kirsten has been around far too long to try to predict anything.

"I'll try for those goals but form and fitness could easily have the final say. I could be dropped or a tear a hamstring tomorrow," he said. "It may well be that the next generation are driven by becoming the first South African to reach those milestones, not by matching me. But I'll be happy at the end of my career, whatever happens, because it's been an amazing journey."

Neil Manthorp is a partner in the South African sports agency MWP.