India in SA
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Kallis has four years – Kepler
Cape Town – South African Test great Jacques Kallis isn’t a near-spent force in terms of perpetually challenging the record books.
That is the reassuring view of former national captain Kepler Wessels, who feels the 35-year-old currently wounded warrior, scorer of remarkable back-to-back centuries against India at Newlands here, could remain in the prestigious five-day arena for three or four years yet.
Hardly for the first time in his illustrious, ever-booming career, Kallis pulled the Proteas from a potential abyss on Wednesday, where they were six second-knock wickets down and a precarious 128 runs to the good in the decisive final Test with a vast amount of time left in the match at that point.
Wincing and doubling over in pain from time to time and always keeping the physio and his little bag of potions busy, Kallis nevertheless stuck to his task with customary calmness, diligence and wonderful skill, and would have revelled in his close friend – the sometimes maligned Mark Boucher – aiding him in a century stand that was essential in probably taking away any realistic chance of an Indian victory.
Thanks to Kallis, Boucher and then some welcome, spirited tail-end play from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, you would think it is now South Africa only with a chance of winning the series in what should be a compelling final day on Thursday.
Kallis, with 40, has become the second-biggest century-maker of all time and remains utterly indispensable to the South African cause.
Wessels, for one, is convinced there will be significant further milestones.
He is well qualified to talk about longevity in the game as he played Test cricket for 12 years, for Australia and South Africa, and had a first-class career that spanned some 26 years until he retired at 42.
“I think if he cuts down his playing programme, perhaps with a lot fewer one-day matches at some point, he could play (Tests) for another three to four years,” Wessels told Sport24. “He can certainly do that as a batsman.
“I suppose he will assess things after the World Cup, in ODI terms, and then come to a decision on that front. He is the sort of player who values Test cricket and will want to prolong his playing days for as long as possible in that format.”
Despite Kallis’s vintage, arguably better-than-ever current form, has Wessels spotted any clues of age-related decline in the rock-like No 4 batsman?
“No, nothing, in fact. He’s probably functioning as well as ever as far as his technique is concerned, plus the way he goes about his business. He is right on top of his game and that will probably remain the case for at least the next 12 months.
“His massive success at his age hasn’t surprised me because he hasn’t stagnated at any stage of his career: he’s always been thinking of ways of improving his game – he’s continually trying to get better.
“He’s never been living in a comfort zone, just doing enough to keep going. He’s been hungry to dominate and that hasn’t (changed).”
Wessels doesn’t see Kallis necessarily suspending his bowling role for the Proteas. “He’ll continue doing what he does now; offer you 10 or maybe 12 overs a day and shortish spells, breaking partnerships. He can sustain that for a while yet – he’s a pretty strong guy.”
How difficult is it for a cricketer to stay in decent physical condition as he reaches the mid- to late-30s?
“It depends on the individual’s mindset,” says Wessels. “I was always somebody who enjoyed training so that was not difficult for me; I’m not sure how Jacques feels about all that aspect of things.
“As you get older you do need a good fitness programme, a consistent pattern of how you train, especially if you have a two- or three-month break and are inactive ... that can make the return harder if you’ve (lapsed).
“Kallis is the best batsman this country has ever produced; I don’t think you can really argue with that. The good thing is he thrives in difficult circumstances, when he stands between South Africa and likely defeat, as he did in this case today.
“We don’t yet have anyone who can replace him, just in terms of his overall role in the side.
“There aren’t too many top-order batsmen worldwide who can also run in and bowl proper seam-up. Australia have someone like Shane Watson opening the batting but I don’t feel his bowling qualifies him as a top international all-rounder.”