Quintessential cricketer

Batting is just one facet of Jacques Kallis' game. He is a fine catcher in the slips and a lively paceman too. He is a match-winner in both the ODIs and Test cricket, writes S. Dinakar.

Do accomplished Test batsmen suit their side's requirements in one-day cricket? Or does batting in one-day internationals call for a set of skills vastly different from what is needed in the longer variety of the game? Jacques Kallis' effort at Kingsmead was the slowest hundred by a South African in the ODIs. But then, he had laid the platform for a South African victory with more than 20 overs to spare.

His was an innings of substance, of watchfulness, of judicious stroke selection. He was not going to give his wicket away. He, like on most occasions, put a price on his scalp.

Greg Chappell must have followed Kallis' effort with a touch of anguish from the pavilion. This was the innings that shut India out.

The Indian coach crossed his brows, engaging his mind in a little thought process before coming up with his verdict on Kallis. "He's a quality player with strong basics and a proven record in all conditions."

The Indian coach then responded to the essential question — can a good Test batsman flourish in the one-day arena as well? His answer was in the affirmative.

"If you look at history, most good Test batsmen have done well in the one-dayers. The essence of batting remains the same," said Chappell.

He elaborated: "I think a batsman has to make the switch mentally. It boils down to how well he can adapt. There will be a little more pressure on him to score faster in the one-dayers, but a good batsman will find a way through."

Kallis did find a way through at Kingsmead in the second MTN ODI. He was rock solid, blunting the Indian attack on a pitch that offered pace and bounce. He built partnerships, the heart of any innings, and opened out toward the end. His was a beautifully paced effort.

That South Africa's technically best-equipped batsman surfaces at the crucial No. 3 slot, says much about the value of the right methods.

Rahul Dravid knows a thing or two about the right methods. His has been a remarkable Test career. The India captain has also had his share of successes in the one-day arena. He realises the worth of Kallis' solidity. "He makes it hard for the bowlers to get his wicket. He also has the shots and can adapt. He gets into the right positions and when a batsman does that, he has a lot more scoring options," the Indian captain said.

Dravid makes a key point here. A batsman with the right attributes is more likely to score in any version of the game. Technique leads to greater body balance and when the weight is properly distributed, a batsman achieves more fluency.

Of course, there will be minor adjustments to be made. For a start, the field positions will be different. There might be a lot more open spaces, especially early in the innings, in a Test. But in the ODIs, a batsman has to pierce a strong infield in the early overs, although there is little protection for the fielding team in the deep. Then, when the field spreads out, finding boundaries is not easy.

A batsman works the ball around, often using the pace of the bowler. But he might end up picking bad habits for Test match cricket, such as the dab shot to third man, so productive in one-day cricket, but so dangerous in Tests with a cordon waiting in place.

"Not really," argues Chappell. "Good batsmen can make the adjustments without letting it affect their game."

Good Test batsmen survive in the ODIs by running the singles and the twos hard, thereby not allowing the stress to build on them. When an opportunity comes their way, the boundary balls are put away ruthlessly. Kallis accomplished this at Kingsmead. When he attempted a loose shot early at Newlands, he walked back disappointed. Here, Justin Kemp took over, batting with care in the beginning and then cutting loose. His innings carried a message — bat according to situations.

There is no substitute for technique. Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were among the foremost opening pairs of all time, in both Tests and ODIs. And the Caribbean greats sliced open attacks with proper cricketing shots.

Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Sanath Jayasuriya and Inzamam-ul-Haq use their feet, stroke with a still head, and find the gaps. They are match-winners in any format.

Of course, there will be times when you would need the aggression and the innovation of the Shahid Afridis of the world. Particularly, when there is a need to disrupt the rhythm of the bowlers, when the asking rate climbs. But then, it is easier for a Test batsman to graduate to the one-day arena than the other way round.

Michael Bevan was a formidable ODI batsman, one of the game's great finishers. He, however, had problems coping with short-pitched bowling from the quicks. Bevan was soon sorted out.

Kallis has no such problems. He rarely gets out to fast, rising deliveries. Since he picks the length quickly, he appears to have a lot of time on his hands. There has been some criticism, though, that he is a one-pace batsman, that he does not up the tempo of the game.

However, batting is just one facet of this phenomenal cricketer's game. He is a fine catcher in the slips and a lively paceman too.

Having strong shoulders, he can extract disconcerting lift from just short of a good length. He is a performer in both forms of the game, and a match-winner too.