Kallis's Newlands nirvana
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The start of Jacques Kallis’s Newlands Test batting saga against England, rich as it is now, wasn’t ideal.
A nervous 20-year-old in just his second appearance for his country in the 1995/96 season, he batted at No 7 for South Africa, sandwiched between Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson, and was trapped leg before wicket by Peter Martin for a funereal seven off 65 balls in the first innings.
But Hansie Cronje’s team went on to win by 10 wickets to clinch the series and the rookie was not required for the second knock.
Since then, Kallis has experienced only giddy success at the ground against these opponents, registering 105 in an innings victory in 1999/2000 and then 149 and 66 as the Proteas prevailed by 196 runs in 2004/05.
Sunday’s utterly priceless, unbeaten knock of 108 (188 balls, 11 fours), in an ever-steadying South African first-day total of 279 for six, was thus his third Cape Town century against England in as many Tests.
And Kallis feasting on their bowling at Newlands once again will be taken as a good omen by a Proteas side slightly fragile on confidence at present and desperate to level the series 1-1 at a favourite venue for the team collectively.
Although he plays his very limited domestic cricket for the Warriors these days, the 34-year-old Pinelands-born player retains his extremely happy association with postcard-perfect Newlands at international level – his Test average there currently stands at a shade over 70 from 17 matches against all opponents, now including six three-figure efforts.
Certainly this innings, happily still a work in progress, has been one of his most treasured to the home cause, given the context of the series – defeat would mean series “curtains” for South Africa – and the circumstances when he took to the crease.
Graeme Smith, after all, had lost a bad toss after some niggly, disappointing unseasonal rain and with low cloud cover in abundance initially.
“I’d put some money on (swing bowler James) Anderson this morning,” this writer overheard former England captain Mike Atherton venture in the media centre as the Proteas took to the crease in the awkward near-gloom after a delayed start.
And Anderson duly obliged, ripping out the luckless Ashwell Prince for a three-ball duck as South Africa rapidly found themselves on the back foot at one for one.
Conditions were still very favourable to pace and seam bowling when the battle-hardened Kallis took to the crease at 46 for two, but his very arrival seemed to have a gee-up, butterflies-settling effect on the hosts … as it so often does.
The 34-year-old maestro was involved in three important partnerships – with AB de Villiers (76), Mark Boucher (89) and then the unlikely but impressive Dale Steyn, who was promoted to No 8 and helped Kallis post a further unbeaten 63 at four-runs-an-over for the seventh wicket.
All the while Kallis was the essential glue, standing typically composed and oozing application to the cause as the sun burned through for a few hours and then made life more challenging again as it went AWOL once more in the early afternoon and forced a slightly early suspension of play.
Thanks largely to their steely No 4, South Africa are “in the game”, as they say, even if they will feel a lot happier if they can claw their way on day two to the fair security of 350 or more.
Rather better weather is expected for the remainder of this rosily-attended Test and that could make the best conditions for batting on the second and third days – although there is enough grass left on the pitch and pretty sprightly carry to suggest the quicker bowlers will stay interested if they perform skilfully.
It is probably both a good and bad thing that South Africa, in this series, have seen their most consistent batting thus far come from their two most-capped players, Kallis and his virtually joined-at-the-hip friend Boucher.
The last-named player displayed great positivity once again, as he has done since the opener at Centurion, working the ball around deftly for his half-century and choosing ideal moments to two-step down the track in statements of intent and defiance.
The good part of the Kallis-Boucher firm prospering is that there is clearly plenty of life yet in the old dogs, but at the same time it is a concern that some younger elements of their regular mix – most notably JP Duminy, who got a second golden duck on the trot – are not contributing as weightily or assuredly as might have been expected at the start of the summer.
Maybe the clever, minor elevation of Steyn in the order -- which has paid off -- was a signal that, come the second knock, South Africa might consider some of their more troubled specialist batsmen being shuffled around too.
Prince, in particular, is probably feeling more than a bit spooked about opening the innings after getting out to some really good ‘uns of late …