He served the game with grace and distinction

Jacques Kallis’ catching in the slips, the measured bowling to deny batsmen scoring opportunities and a perfect approach to scoring runs made him the dream player any captain would desire, writes Vijay Lokapally.

He summarised modern cricket perfectly. For Jacques Kallis, the longer version and the shorter one brought out varied responses. He could pace the innings to suit the demands of the situation and tame the opposition with a technical excellence few could match. This South African, a true all-rounder, was the torch bearer for quality in international cricket.

By deciding to retire from all forms of international cricket, Kallis may have created a void that would be hard to fill. At 38, he, indeed, was pushing hard to stay in the reckoning essentially because of his all-round commitment to the team. Nineteen years of distinguished presence gave him the status of a giant and he grew in the esteem of all by calling it a day when he realised he was not serving the team as expected of him.

Kallis is the only South African to have scored more than 10,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs. He was indeed honest when taking the decision to call it a day. “I realised in Sri Lanka that my dream of playing in a World Cup was a bridge too far. I just knew on that tour that I was done. The squad that was in Sri Lanka is an amazing one and I believe they have a good chance of bringing the (World Cup) trophy home in March. It has been an amazing journey. I am not retiring from all cricket as I have a two-year contract with the Sydney Thunder and, if possible, to help the Kolkata Knight Riders defend the IPL title we won earlier this year,” he said in a statement.

His retirement from Test cricket, a pragmatic decision in December 2013, gave him the extra lease to pursue his dream of winning the World Cup. In Tests, he finished with 13,289 runs in 166 matches with 45 centuries and 58 fifties at an average of 55.37. His ODI career was embellished with 11579 runs in 328 matches with 17 centuries and 86 fifties at an average of 44.36. He also figured in 25 T20s, scoring 666 runs with five fifties. He led the side in two Tests, both at home against Australia. He also captained South Africa in 13 ODIs.

Hashim Amla, the South Africa Test captain, also praised Kallis. “Jacques was a once-in-50-years cricketer who had a huge influence on so many Proteas players over a twenty-year period. I was privileged to have been one of those. You appreciate the magnitude of the cricketer not only when you look at his record but also when you play alongside him.”

A modern day Garry Sobers was how he was popularly described. And rightly too! For Kallis, it was important to remain in the thick of action.

His position in the team, especially in ODIs, was dictated by the fact that he contributed handsomely with both the bat and the ball. The middle order was a thriving force when Kallis took charge. He won many a battle single-handedly but South Africa gained immensely from his ability to motivate the rest.

Even in ODIs, where the onus would be on forcing the pace, he made the opposition earn his wicket. A selfless cricketer, Kallis brought class to the crease, with his wide range of shots, the maturity that marked his cricket from the beginning and of course his match-winning abilities with both the bat and the ball. There was not a cricketer in the last two decades who came close to the consistency that Kallis achieved.

He was best against the best and none better than former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith assessed Kallis’ awesome cricketing abilities so aptly: “I’ve been calling him an ‘old man’ and asking him what he’s doing out there, but I had a hint that he might decide to retire after he came back from Sri Lanka and realised that it would take a lot of hard work for him to get through to the World Cup. When you’re playing full-time it’s easier, but focus is very crucial at international level and I think he was wondering if his mind is really on it. He really wanted to win the World Cup, but I’ve always appreciated his honesty and I think he realised that he might let the team down. He was honest enough to realise he might not be strong enough to make it through to next year.”

The World Cup may have eluded Kallis, but he will always be acknowledged as one of the all-time greats. His catching in the slips, the measured bowling to deny batsmen scoring opportunities and a perfect approach to scoring runs made Kallis the dream player any captain would desire. He produced many great knocks and spells but importantly he served the game with grace and distinction.