Colossus of South Africa’s batting line-up, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith aren’t getting any younger. A new generation of batsmen have started to deliver the goods for South Africa. Bharath Ramaraj ponders over the questions raised about the roles of the mainstays of their batting line-up in an ever-changing world of One-Day cricket.
Back in 1996, when seasoned veterans like Peter Kirsten, Kepler Wessels, Adrian Kuiper and Jimmy Cook had hung up their spiked boots, and Andrew Hudson was on his last legs as a player, the question on everyone’s lips was who will take over the mantle of being the mainstay of South Africa’s batting line-up.
Now, that was the time a 20-year old from Cape Town named Jacques Kallis emerged from South Africa’s cricketing stables with burgeoning potential. The columnist still rekindles fondly watching Kallis’s half-century on a trampoline wicket at Durban against England in a One-Day International (ODI) game played in 1996. He had not yet reached the stratospheric regions of international cricket then.
In fact, it took him another year to banish his inner demons, and fulfil his unmistakable potential with his pertinacious century at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1998 against Australia, where he gallantly took South Africa to safety. Yet, the rock-solid defence and the heavy dollops of God-gifted talent he showcased during his knock against England, all those years ago, gave an inkling that South Africa’s transitional phase would be a smooth one.
Just about a dozen years later, another colossus in the annals of South Africa’s cricket, Graeme Smith arrived on the big stage with some thundering performances against England. Even then, there were question marks raised over their next generation of cricketers.
Now fast forward to 2013. With both Kallis and Smith not getting any younger, there were whispers even this year about South African team going on a downhill path. However, the likes of Quinton de Kock, David Miller and company have given genuine hope to their fans that veterans like Kallis and Smith can safely pass the baton to the next generation of batsmen from the Rainbow Nation in ODI cricket, at least.
Both de Kock and Miller come from the modern school of batting, as they play with boyish adventurism and just don’t care for the reputation of bowlers. The fearless courage can be seen from the fact that both batsmen are ever-ready to wallop back of a length deliveries bowled at good pace through the line of the ball. Even yorkers don’t seem to bother them. De Kock’s second ODI hundred against India on a track with steep bounce and pace at Wanderers showed that here was a batsman who plays with an ultra-aggressive mindset.
There is a feeling that de Kock’s footwork can be exposed by good bowling line-ups. But we perhaps debate too much about footwork. As they say in the text books, the key to good batsmanship is to keep your head very still and as a result, get into good positions to play shots. De Kock certainly does that. He definitely looks a bright prospect, who needs the required conditioning.
In fact, South Africa’s think-tank has been so impressed by de Kock’s potential that they have asked Graeme Smith to give the ODI series a break, and prepare for the upcoming Test series. A few years ago, Smith being dropped from the South African set-up was simply unthinkable. Even with Kallis, his detractors believe they can perhaps ease him out of the ODI set-up. In the recent past, it also has to be said that Kallis has hardy played for South Africa in ODIs.
But with less than two years left for the next edition of the cricket World Cup to begin, it doesn’t make much sense in wielding the axe on the colossus of South African cricket – Kallis and Smith. The dashers and bashers in their batting department need experienced heads like Smith and Kallis to guide them to the pinnacle of success. The major problem is if Smith slots in at No 3 in the batting order, then arguably South Africa’s best ODI batsman, AB de Villiers will have to bat at No 5.
Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith have been such great servants of South African cricket that one can’t help but garland them with a slew of encomiums. Yes, a time will come when both the seasoned campaigners will retire from the game. However for the time being, the young brigade of South African team that includes the likes of Miller and de Kock need wise old heads to show the path to success. In Kallis and Smith, they have couple of colossus of South African cricket who can guide the younger brigade to glorious heights.
(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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