Return of 'forgotten' Kirsten

2011-10-21 08:18

Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column

SABC 3 sprang a minor and fairly pleasant surprise this week by making use of Peter Kirsten in their television commentary team for the first one-day international between South Africa and Australia at SuperSport Park.

Not all of Auckland Park’s past players behind the microphone fall into the genuinely “illustrious” category - this is not always a prerequisite, but it helps a lot of the time - and the oldest of the remarkable quartet of Kirsten brothers from the first-class and in two cases international game acted as a nice balancer on Wednesday.

I confess to a slight bias in favour of the now 56-year-old “Kirsey” because he was my childhood hero at Newlands in the old Currie Cup days.

I used to crane my neck from the train window at the end of my day at school, as it approached the nearby station, and pray the “Kirsten” yellow-painted sign on the old manual scoreboard was still in the “batsmen in” section in mid-afternoon. So often, of course, it was.

A stroke-player of great aesthetic appeal and sometimes lovely inventiveness, he was also a bit ahead of his time as a cover-point fielder of specialist repute: I would marvel at his nimbleness and throwing-in accuracy which was in stark contrast to the largely amateur-era row of beer bellies conveniently posted in the slip cordon.

Watching Jacques Kallis play his first international innings of the season, having just turned 36, reminded me ruefully also of the fact that Kirsten was only able to make his Test debut at that identical juncture of his life - I had had the very great pleasure of being seated alongside him on the flight to the Caribbean as a pressman ahead of the poignant, isolation-ending 1992 Bridgetown thriller against West Indies.

There’s no doubt in my own mind that PN Kirsten in his heyday would have qualified for the mantle of South African legend had greater Test exposure been possible for him.
Speaking of his initials, co-commentator Neil Johnson kept reverently calling him “Peter Noel” ... perhaps a residual effect of their master-and-pupil sort of relationship when Kirsten was WP coach?

Kirsten is arguably not the most naturally gifted public “speaker” you’ll ever hear, but he has some impish humour and his rapport with the ever-enthusiastic Johnno - that motor-mouthed fellow could easily call a horse race, I’m sure - made for a pleasant diversion on a bleak night for the Proteas.

A vignette from Kirsten during play was his memory-based comparison between teenage Aussie thunderbolt Pat Cummins and his old friend and Newlands team-mate Garth le Roux: “Young, fit, eager, and once they get a sniff ...”

Rob’s Awesome Foursome:

1. Absa Currie Cup rugby semi-finals
Durban, Saturday 14:30 (Sharks v Cheetahs) & Johannesburg 17:00 (Lions v WP), both M-Net, SS1 & SHD

Schalk Burger, one of the Springboks most entitled to keep his head high after the World Cup, deftly sidestepped my question “Do you think the Sharks are firm Currie Cup favourites as we enter the semis?” at a WP media briefing this week. “We don’t have to worry about them this weekend,” was his eminently sensible way of dodging the issue. Indeed - last year’s losing finalists must first negotiate the steep Lions hurdle at Coca-Coca Park in the late game. But I have a sneaky feeling Province will have enough Bok-infused backline clout, if they really go out to express themselves, to return to the showpiece once more. And yes, with respect to a credible Cheetahs challenge at Mr Price Kings Park first, it will be against the Sharks in Durban. Again. And if so, next week I may try to hit Schalk with my query once more ...

2. New Zealand v France, Rugby World Cup final
Auckland, Sunday 10:00, SABC2, M-Net, SS1, SS4 & SHD

I have such mixed feelings about the match-up for the RWC final. Yes, just maybe the volatile, unpredictable France – especially given their rosy little World Cup heritage against New Zealand -- are the likeliest outfit to have a sniff at toppling the mighty All Blacks. (And I still believe quarter-finalists the Springboks would have had a better stab at that job than the Wallabies, had they somehow been able to meet at Eden Park.) But the French have been rank innocuous at this tournament, and seeing a team in the final who lost to Tonga severely restricts the possibly of “Goliath” being felled, doesn’t it? For the record, my tip is Richie McCaw’s side by around 25 points ... and thus a mass, host-nation party that can start a trifle early.  

3. South Africa v Australia, second cricket ODI
Port Elizabeth, Sunday 13:00, SABC3, SS2, CSN, SH2

Already 1-0 up and thus revved by the fact that victory at St George’s Park would secure the short series, Australia will seek to cash in once more on the Proteas’ early-season imprecision. Worryingly from a South African point of view, the Aussies also have a decent ODI track record against these opponents at the ground (which is not expected to be dogged by bad weather, thank goodness, like Centurion was the other night). They’ve won four of six contests there between the two southern hemisphere giants. At least the last one, in April 2009, went the Proteas’ way – by 61 runs after a century from Herschelle Gibbs (remember him?) and 84 from AB de Villiers saw South Africa well past the 300-mark. What they’d give for another such weighty total under current, rather misfiring circumstances ...

4. Manchester United v Manchester City, English Premiership soccer
Manchester, Sunday 14:30, SS3 & SHD3

What a perfect set-up for this tantalising meeting: visitors City leading the Premiership by two points from champions and derby arch-rivals United, and both having come off midweek wins in the Champions League just to moisten the appetite further. It’s the Red Devils’ second rather stiff league challenge on the trot, after they were perhaps a little fortunate to snatch a point at Liverpool last Saturday – a decent enough outcome for them, all the same. A sixth sense tells me that Fergie’s team will take charge of this one at Old Trafford against individually gifted but still not comprehensively gelling opponents: 2-0 is my prediction.


  • granville.paulse - 2011-10-21 10:03

    One of my favourite batters as well. And to think he was almost did not make it to our first WC, which mind, is still our best performance at a WC. Back in the good old days when we had no chokers.

  • louis.wainwright - 2011-10-21 12:57

    Pity he jinxed JP when he went in to bat!!

  • caryn.beukes - 2011-10-22 04:45

    He called him Peter Noel, because his first names are Peter Noel

  • hilton.ralphs - 2011-10-22 10:40

    I actually thought Kirsten deserved man of the tournament in the 1992 WC. He was magnificent. Good old fashion work ethic and less self glory. I don't think Cricket SA is using the old legends' knowledge and experience to the fullest, if at all.

  • Jacques - 2011-10-22 21:37

    What an awesome story to tell- the one of checking to see if Kirsten was still ''not out'' after school! I used to spend 3 bucks worth of airtime every half an hour in early high school to download the cricket scores just to see if Kallis still was in. It still isn't the same, though. What a legend, and well written piece. I enjoyed it!

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