By Bharath Ramaraj
Once in a while, the cricketing world gets to see a phenomenal cricketer who with his ultra-consistency is able to churn out numbers that leaves everyone gasping for breath. South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis is one such cricketer who has churned out astonishing numbers by essaying soul-lifting masterpieces both with the bat and ball in hand, over a period of time. So, when he decided to announce his retirement from Test and First-Class cricket after the Test series against India, it sent shock waves in the wonderful world of cricket.
It was almost two decades ago when the great all-rounder made his Test debut against England at the very same ground, he is going to play his last Test — Durban. However for a while, it seemed like the precociously talented all-rounder was not going to fulfill the heavy dollops of talent bestowed upon him. He would essay that odd fifty or take a couple of wickets, but the watershed moment of his career was missing from his repertoire.
It took him exactly two years and 16 days to throw the monkey of not having scored a century in Test cricket off his back. It came in the traditional Boxing Day Test match played against Australia in 1997. The Australian team knew here was a cricketer who has been earmarked for success, but hasn’t yet made it count in Test cricket. They sledged, growled and snarled at Kallis to test his temperament. Kallis though, just like a bedrock, stood tall and helped South Africa to eschew a draw from the jaws of defeat. His defence was rock-solid and even when Australia led by Glenn McGrath tested him with a barrage of short stuff, he handled them with aplomb and fearless courage. A star was born that day.
Since then, he has gone onto make 43 more Test hundreds and has snared 292 wickets in his Test career. Every time he walked out to bat in the middle, there was genuine hope among South African cricket fans that he would shepherd the team to safety. When he bowled or stood in the slip cordon with those bucket-like hands, South Africa felt safe.
In fact, the assuredness with which the exceptional genius essayed a brilliant hundred at Durban while batting with the tail against England in 2004 is exactly what the writer envisages when he said South Africa felt safe with Kallis in the middle. South Africa looked lost for ideas on a track that seamed around zig-zag. The English seamers with a lion-hearted stamina had made massive inroads into the South African batting order. But Kallis with his impregnable defence handled everything that England threw at him and re-defined perfection in terms of technique and temperament that day. The poise, fluid balance and equanimity he showcased at the crease won him plaudits and praises from everyone who was at the ground. Even the English cricketers marvelled at the sheer perfection on display from the great batsman.
A few years later in 2006, when South Africa was in the midst of being pummelled constantly by the dominant Australian line-up, they needed their batting genius Kallis to come to the party. He did that again by washing away the challenge posed by the duo of Shane Warne and McGrath with utmost ease. Unfortunately, even that superlative century didn’t help South Africa to defeat Australia. When Australia arrived on the shores of South Africa for their return-leg tour, Kallis was again in the thick of things by amassing a crucial hundred at Durban. Believe-it-or-not, South Africa lost that game too.
In 2007, when South Africa embarked on a tough tour to Pakistan, they knew they had a task on their hands. On slow and dusty tracks of Pakistan, Kallis was likely going to be their go-to-man in the batting line-up for the umpteenth time in his career. He didn’t disappoint the South African think-tank by playing a major role in their monumental victory in the first Test at Karachi with a sublime innings of 155.
When India travelled to the Rainbow Nation in 2010-11 as the No 1 ranked side in Tests, they were eying for their first series win in South Africa. However, the one man who stood between them and a series victory was that cricketer from Cape Town again — Kallis. With Cape Town bathed in radiant sunshine, Kallis followed up his remarkable first innings hundred with another fabulous edifice in the second innings. The Indian team seemed to be weary and completely exhausted. They had scratched their heads and brainstormed to come up with a box of tricks to send the South African great back to the pavilion. Yet, everything proved to be futile while bowling to Kallis.
Lest we forget that Kallis was a fine bowler too. He was a slippery customer who could surprise the batsmen with a fine bouncer. He also could swing the ball. One of his most underrated spells came at Lord’s in 1998. He simply proceeded to break the back of the English batting line-up by bowling at brisk pace and swinging the ball late to leave them in a state of trance. A few years later with a spell of six for 54 at Headingley, he proved to be the crux of England’s batting collapse in the second innings that led to their defeat. To have a great batsman in the ranks who bowls brisk medium pace and has bucket-like hands in the slip cordon is a boon to South African cricket. He has 199 catches in Test cricket so far.
Kallis will still play one-day cricket for South Africa and is targeting the ICC World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand. So, there is still a bit more to come from modern cricket’s greatest all-rounders.
So, as he goes into the autumnal sunset of his truly amazing Test career, one can only marvel at the astonishing numbers he has churned up over a career spanning 18 years. He conquered fabulous and compelling peaks innumerable times in his career. He undoubtedly leaves a gaping hole in South African line-up that would be hard to fill for many years to come.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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