Kallis and his glorious feat

With three centuries in the two-Test series against Pakistan, Jacques Kallis proved his commitment in no uncertain terms. And rightly he was adjudged the Man of the Series.

Jacques Kallis’ centuries are consequences of accumulation and construction, as opposed to fluid composition. His strokes are a product of relentless chiselling, and his shot-selection is helped by an uncanny ability to leave the tricky deliveries untouched. He completes his picture with an outwardly sense of detachment on the pitch, which is precisely why his knee-jerk decision to resign as South Africa’s vice-captain after being ignored for the World Twenty20 was unexpected.

What did Kallis have to prove after accumulating more than 8000 Test runs at an average of over 50? Obviously, irrespective of the stage or the form of the game, not being considered for the South African team hurt him.

However, the period that followed his decision was well-utilised for rejuvenation and to refocus on what he did best. What followed were performances that earned him the Man of the Series award against Pakistan. “I put my early success in the season down to the long break I’ve had. It was almost five months and it just goes to show what a real break — the longest I’ve had in many years — can do for you. It would have been nice to play in the World Twenty20 but, in hindsight, look at what the break has done for me,” Kallis said.

Kallis, 32, became just the fourth South African to score a century in each innings of a Test, a feat he achieved in Lahore. “It’s great to be in the record books with some of the greats of South African cricket. I feel fresh, and really feel good when I’m at the crease,” said Kallis.

“I feel very proud to be one of four players from my country to have scored two centuries in a Test. I’ve come close before, but this time I was fortunate to achieve it. I don’t have a double century to my name, but this will do quite nicely.”

His century in the first innings in the Karachi Test was constructed with an out-of-his-Test-character urgency. The hundred was reached in 147 balls after having consumed 91 balls for 50. He stuck to the Kallis template, flourishing with drives through his customary minimal arc and the back-foot punch through square. He also used his feet with consummate ease against an overstaffed Pakistani spin attack. He smothered the spin to score his 25th Test hundred.

A legend bids adieu... Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq hugs skipper Shoaib Malik after his final Test at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.-AP

The runs came less easily in the second innings, but he dropped anchor and made sure the visitors set Pakistan a big target. His unbeaten second innings score of 100 was quintessential Kallis, with a strike rate of 49.75. “The second one, I had to grind it out, as I had to make sure we had enough runs on the board. In the first innings, I was striking the ball well and really played confidently,” Kallis said.

The lahore Test, a.k.a the ‘Inzamam Test’ ended in a stalemate due to Pakistan’s over-cautious batting approach. But it was Kallis’ performance, with some solid top-order support, that South Africa thrived on. It eventually provided sufficient cushion to see the team through a mediocre final day.

With three centuries in the two-Test series, Kallis did with his tailored batting, the equivalent of screaming his commitment from the roof top. His commitment had come under severe scrutiny after his resignation. It didn’t help that he possessed a style of batting that had always trapped him in an image bordering on selfishness. Over a period of two Tests, he has silenced some discordant voices.

Kallis is a lot more self-assured now while batting, which was evident during his centuries number 25, 26 and 27. The first of the three (155), which set the tone for the series, has found a place in his top-three innings.

“It is a great honour (to get 25 hundreds). It is something I never thought of achieving for my country when I batted out in the backyard in my childhood. I still think my first hundred in Melbourne is the best but certainly I rate this one in the top three,” he said.

Even the drama surrounding Inzamam-ul-Haq’s final Test couldn’t conceal the sheer weight of Kallis’ runs. An anti-climactic end awaited Inzamam’s glorious career. Scores of 14 and 3 did little justice to the thousands of runs that preceded them, but few will choose to remember Inzamam’s failings.

The Test series was also a landmark for South Africa, with the Proteas registering their first significant Test series win in the sub-continent in more than seven years. Besides Kallis’ knocks, there were good performances from the left-arm spinner Paul Harris, who was a revelation, Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith, who scored a century at Karachi. Wicket-keeper Mark Boucher broke Australian Ian Healy’s record of 395 (366 catches, 29 stumpings) Test dismissals in Karachi. Boucher now has 402 victims (383 catches, 19 stumpings).

“Harris is a huge plus,” said Smith. “Not only has he picked up wickets but he has allowed us control and allowed us to experiment with one or two things at the other end, to take a couple of risks. He joined the team last year and this, on his first sub-continent trip, is a huge plus for us.”

Pakistan, meanwhile, dropped down to seventh spot in the ICC Test rankings after the 0-1 series loss. Its bowling lacked penetration and the dead wickets were of little help. The team’s poor catching made the bowling look worse than it was.

“You have to get 20 wickets in Tests, but we dropped a few catches. The bowlers did all they could on the type of wickets we had,” said Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik.

“Playing Tests after so long made a difference. It’s difficult to change from formats but we tried very hard in this series. We were playing Tests after seven months and for that, the boys played really well,” he added.

The two Tests, however, will be remembered more for individuals than team results. It will be remembered for the exit of the last member of the Pakistan team that won the 1992 World Cup, and for one of the most consistent run-gathering seen in recent times by Kallis (coming as it did after the World Twenty20).

Bowlers can now start worrying, since Kallis seeks the double hundred that has eluded him so far. No successful batsman would be content without a double century, least of all Kallis.