A rare all in one

Jacques Kallis...the silent, strong man of South African cricket.-K.R. DEEPAK

South Africa cricket has its share of politics and undercurrents, but Jacques Kallis has stayed away from politicking and remained focussed on playing the game and giving his best every time he has walked out on to the field.

The New Year kicked off with a lot of excitement as the Indians managed to level the Test series in South Africa. It was hard fought and that Team India came back after a crushing defeat at the Supersport Park to win in Durban is creditable as it is not easy to bounce back in a three-Test series. The Indians showed a lot of aggression and purpose and but for Jacques Kallis the Indians might have ended up winning the series. The stocky South African should go down as the best all-rounder since Gary Sobers in terms of numbers.

Unfortunately, his name does not come to one's mind straight up whenever all-rounders are discussed. Kallis has performed creditably over the years and his figures in both the Tests and one-dayers are mind-boggling. He has not been partial to any one department in that he has scored over 11000 runs and taken in excess of 250 wickets in both formats of the game. If these numbers are not enough, his big safe hands have pouched more than a 100 catches in both the formats. If he had been hyped by the press like some of the lesser but more flamboyant cricketers of his time, the IPL franchisees might have been at war in bidding for him. Such is the irony in life that he was taken for only half the price of some like Robin Uthappa who has hardly been in the thick of things in the last year.

However, Kallis is someone who has made it a mission to let his figures speak for him and though he has not come out openly, the all-rounder might be considering himself unlucky not to have led his country on a regular basis. Then, of course, it might have been a blessing in disguise as the pressure of captaincy might have weighed on him. Some great performers like Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar did not have too many happy occasions to celebrate as captain. Captain or not Kallis makes his presence felt and his contribution in international cricket will remain unparalleled for some years. He will probably be the one to succeed Tendulkar to notch up 50 centuries in Test cricket, but even if Kallis does not get there, matching his deeds will take some doing.

Now that it will be more of the shorter formats of the game, Kallis will shift gears in order to live up to his outstanding reputation. Given his ability to adapt to the shorter format without sacrificing his conventional approach, Team India can expect him to be a thorn in their flesh. For South Africa to do well in the one-dayers against India and in the World Cup thereafter, Kallis needs to keep his form going at full clip.

Kallis and his team mates would have followed the IPL auction closely and the all-rounder might have expected to be bought for more. He has been bought by the Kolkata Knight Riders, which means that he will need to adapt to a new team and a different city. Some might say that his batting is not aggressive enough to meet the demands of the T-20 format, but he can still churn up runs. Besides, his ability to make the batsmen hop at the crease with his bowling will come in handy. His seemingly innocuous run up can lull the batsmen into complacency, but his strong shoulders can deliver the ball at 140 kmph. That is the kind of pace that even the frontline Indian bowlers would desperately like to achieve.

He is the kind of cricketer any captain will be delighted to have in his line up and Gautam Gambhir (who is likely to lead the KKR team) will be pleased that he will have Kallis in his ranks. The new look KKR team will need to make a mark in the upcoming edition and Kallis will be a very valuable member. But even before the IPL takes off, one can expect to see Kallis hog the headlines in the ODI version of the game. In as much as his performances have been underplayed in the media, the other critical factor that has been ignored is his fitness and the strong mindset that it takes for a cricketer to perform in all the three departments.

It would have been easy for a top-notch batsman to go easy on his ancillary department, but Kallis is a faithful soldier who will pound in hard and bowl over after over if the captain needs him. That is a rare quality that has separated Kallis from the rest of the pack and the knock at Cape Town battling an injury epitomised the team man that Kallis is.

South Africa cricket also has its share of politics and undercurrents, but Kallis has stayed away from politicking and remained focussed on playing the game and giving his best every time he has walked out on to the field. South Africa is known for diamond mines, but one really wonders if South African cricket will ever produce another gem like Jacques Henry Kallis.