The last twelve months have brought the curtain down on a number of exceptional cricketing careers. The exodus started in December 2012, when ex-Australian captain Ricky Ponting retired from Test, and subsequently, all international cricket.
He was shortly followed by his fellow countryman Michael Hussey, fondly known as ‘Mr. Cricket’, who put up his international batting gloves in January 2013. Next, and probably the most important of all time, was the ‘Little Master’ Sachin Tendulkar's retirement in November 2013. However, none of these great cricketers are as irreplaceable as Jacques Kallis, who played his last Test match for South Africa a couple of weeks ago.
For the last eighteen years, South Africa have had the luxury of a cricketer that can bat anywhere in the top order, a bowler who would easily be a third seamer in most other teams and a slip fielder you could bet your life on to catch anything coming his way. If ever a cricketer epitomised the definition of an all-rounder, it was Kallis.
As a batsman, just like Rahul Dravid was nicknamed ‘The Wall of India’, Kallis was ‘The Door of South Africa’. Many people have questioned his tactics and speed of batting, especially when South Africa were in a strong position. This criticism has all come about with the invention of Twenty20 cricket.
Due to the amount and speed at which runs are now scored in this format, pressure is undoubtedly increasing to replicate this same speed and batting numbers in other formats. This is why scores of 300 are now considered par in a fifty-over cricket match, whereas before a score of 300 would have meant almost certain victory for the side that posted it.
However, there is still and always will be room in cricket for solid technicians such as Kallis and Dravid. They are the players that provide the foundation for teams to build on. They often go unnoticed because they soak up all the pressure in a game scenario and allow more flamboyant players to express themselves and drive the game forward. Having said all this, Kallis still holds the record for the fastest Test half-century, which he got against Zimbabwe in 2004, facing only 24 balls.
South African cricket has always been blessed with world-class fast bowlers. All the way from Neil Adcock and Peter Pollock in the 50s and 60s, Fanie de Villiers and Allan Donald in the 90s, right through to the current crop led by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. For Kallis to have been a part of this talented group and to have taken so many wickets is quite remarkable.
To many, Kallis’ bowling is of less importance than his batting. This is only true because of the sheer depth of fast bowlers South Africa had at their disposal during his career. In any other team or generation, Kallis would have easily slotted in as a third seamer, which would probably have had a negative effect on his batting due to the increased workload.
Either way, I am sure that any young cricketer wanting to earn his or her trade as a fast bowler would happily accept the number of wickets Kallis has taken throughout his career.
Now picture this – you have a cricketer batting in the top order for your team; in addition, they may be required to bowl 10-15 overs a day; but, they are also fielding in one of the most important positions whilst the opposition bats.
The skills and levels of concentration required to successfully carry out even one of these tasks is immense, let alone all three. Kallis has been successfully carrying out all of these roles for his entire career.
His Test cricket statistics tell their own story – over 13,000 runs, placing him third in the all time list of most Test runs;over 250 Test wickets and exactly 200 outfield Test catches, just ten behind Dravid.
Perhaps most importantly, it is the manner in which Kallis has gone about his cricket that will be etched in my memory forever. An intimidating character standing well above six feet and heavily built, he has never taken advantage of his size and rarely lost his temper or let emotions get the better of him on the field. Off the field, he has always been calm and shied away from the limelight, very reminiscent of Ernie Els, the South African golfer nicknamed ‘the Big Easy’.
Even though records mean little to him, there are a number of things Kallis has not achieved which you would generally associate with a truly great cricketer. Two in particular stand out. The first is getting a hundred at Lord's and having your name printed on the Batting Honours List.
Due to his retirement from Tests and him not being needed in the Twenty20 format, this achievement seems beyond his grasp. The second is winning a limited overs cricket World Cup. Kallis has stated previously that he would like to target next year’s fifty-over World Cup as his final tournament. Therefore, he has one chance to rectify the second anomaly.
Just like India played their hearts out for Tendulkar in 2011, who, by the way is also not on the Lord's Batting Honours List, South Africa should do everything they can to give one of their greatest sporting sons a fairytale ending.
Having carried South African cricket for almost two decades, it is time South Africa carried Kallis over this final hurdle.
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