Kallis' gone. Now what?
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
With the kerfuffle of the politicking
between Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) now
done and dusted, CSA face a new pickle. A man who has for the most part of 18
years been a stalwart in the team will no longer play for the side in Test
match whites and they need to find somebody else to fill his role.
Replacement is a cruel word to use, because
nobody is going to replace Jacques Kallis. It’s more of a permanent substitute
which will most likely take place on a trial and error basis. But where does
one even begin to begin considering a substitute of adequate stature in this
Prior to his hundred against India at
Durban, Kallis had had a pretty average year with the bat and, for the latter
part of his career, his bowling has
often taken a back seat due to the demand it puts on an older athlete’s body.
When Morne Morkel picked up an injury in the first Test, though, Kallis duly
stepped up to fill the role and his overall worth in the side was made pretty
From the team’s perspective, Kallis’
retirement timing could not be worse. The Proteas face a revitalised Australian
team for three Tests in February/March and whoever steps into the side will be
thrown into the deep end of the fire pool.
The transitional phase is going to be one
of South Africa’s toughest tests yet. They have blooded many rookies over the
last 18 months, mostly with success thanks to the wealth of talent that
surrounds the youngsters. Allowing those who step into the side to go out and
be comfortable in playing their natural game has been the hallmark of this
South African Test side. The transition, therefore, should be relatively
seamless, but first a candidate for the vacancy needs to be identified.
There is no player in the country, or
perhaps the world, who’d be able to fill a duel role in the way Kallis did.
Instead, the Proteas have to regenerate the identity of their team. The most
logical option is to start off with a shift in the batting order. Faf du Plessis
has already showed some rear guard ability and shifting him up the order seems
a salient choice. This frees up a position lower down the order for South
Africa to do with as they please.
There are a few candidates for the vacancy.
First in line is possibly Dean Elgar, who has been with the side for some time,
but whose performances have been underwhelming. His inclusion means an increase
in workload for South Arica’s fast bowlers while the spinners will have to be
relied upon to play a holding role
Then there is Ryan McLaren, the workhorse, domestic veteran who has played
a solid role in the limited overs format, but whose inconsistency is bothersome
and lack of first-class cricket due to international commitments means he might
be out of the rhythm of the longest format of the game. He has played just one
first class game for the Knights this season
taking three wickets in the match and scoring 42 and 6 respectively. In a like-for-like replacement, McLaren is
perhaps the closest substitute South Africa have got. With more time out in the
middle in the longer format, perhaps McLaren’s performances will be more
consistent as there is far less pressure
when surrounded by a plethora of talent. He has played just one Test for South
Africa, against England during 2010, and at 30 years old, he perhaps has
another four years left, giving South Africa enough time to balance the scales
at the end of an era.
Outside chances for the spot are Thami
Tsolekile, Quinton de Kock and rookie Stiaan van Zyl. Tsolekile currently
serves as backup wicketkeeper and might end up getting a chance anyway due to
an injury to De Villiers. De Villiers has had to undergo surgery to fix a hand
injury and although it is believed that he should recover in time, Tsolekile
will be the replacement if not. However, as a swap for Kallis, he is not
exactly what South Africa needs. De Villiers has shown that he is more than capable of performing both behind
the stumps and with the bat in hand and as long as his back injury stays at
bay, there’s no need to tinker with the line-up.
De Kock’s performance in the limited overs
setup, meanwhile, has had many calling for his inclusion in the Test side. He
is, however, not quite cut from the patient cloth that is the hallmark of Test
cricketers and even if he were to be included, he should not be keeping or
opening the batting. His first-class record is more than solid, with an average
of 51.96 in 19 games, but, like Tsolekile, he doesn’t offer much to the team
from all-round perspective.
Van Zyl is the last outside batsman. Having
been earmarked for international success, the Cobras player has consistently
topped the first-class averages and has scored 456 runs at an average of 91.20
this season in six innings. Last season he scored 673 in nine games at an
average of 61.18, the second-highest of the competition. He remains nothing more than an outside
contender, but the left-hander is looming on the fringes of international
cricket and banging on the door for his call-up. If South Africa are in search of
nothing more than a batsman, who can sometimes bowl a bit, then there’s no one
better than Van Zyl.
Whatever happens, the Kallis-substitute should be given time,
patience and, if he can, try and get Kallis to change his mind. Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about
soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have
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