By Rob Houwing - Sport24 Chief writer
Kallis loving his 'life'
Durban – If the Australians are suddenly contemplating day five of the second Test here with a slightly reduced sense of relish, Marcus North may be doing so with a special unease.
It was his first-ball let-off of South Africa’s traditionally most stubborn batsman Jacques Kallis that has helped invigorate the Proteas’ chances of saving a match in which they have been mostly pulverised.
Suddenly the series may not be quite so ready to be sealed in Australia’s favour – just imagine the renewed interest in the final Test at Newlands from March 19 should the home side actually extract themselves from this awful pit!
And even if the game remains a long way from saved, North’s gremlin could yet prove a decisive factor in what would be a famous jailbreak.
He dropped the out-of-touch and slightly physically hampered Kallis at first slip as the batsman thick-edged his “sighter” delivery from Peter Siddle, who would have been on his second hat-trick of the match had the Western Australian not grassed the sharp but realistic opportunity.
There is no guarantee, of course, that South Africa would have simply toppled like dominoes in the wake of so profound a blow, but it would certainly have sent new shockwaves through an already fragile dressing room.
Kallis, after all, has only registered 10 ducks in his 220 Test innings, and just one of them golden – that one came in England’s victory at the Wanderers in 2004/05, when Matthew Hoggard got the prize scalp among his 7/61 in South Africa’s second innings of the fourth Test.
Instead he has cashed in on North’s error in a manner class batsmen often do, moving with ever-increasing assuredness to 84 not out in a productive, unbroken third-wicket partnership of 164 with a similarly smooth-firing AB de Villiers (68).
It has been a wonderfully opportune time for Kallis to play a long innings, coming after an uncharacteristically lean spell in which he has often looked in crisp enough touch yet strangely got out when nicely acclimatised.
Indeed, this is already his highest score in 20 innings, stretching back to his last century at Ahmedabad (132) last April.
Along the valuable way he has also achieved an agreeable landmark, going past Graeme Pollock to be South Africa’s leading Test run-scorer against Australia; it is presently 1553 runs.
Don’t shout it too loudly, but there is an opportunity here for Kallis, who has still not won over pockets of desperately hard-to-please critics despite some sublime all-round statistics in the game, to play an innings that could count among the most luminary rearguard ones ever.
Whatever happens in his onward pursuit, it has been a brave knock thus far – he has a stitched chin from his bloody meeting with a Mitchell Johnson first-innings cannonball, and is still being troubled by bruising to his right hand which sees him often pull it off the handle and wince and shake it after playing certain strokes.
There are several key factors to consider in South Africa’s Tuesday salvation drive. Will the pitch play further tricks (some deliveries are keeping especially low from the Old Fort Road end)? Will the immediately available new ball break this crucial Kallis-De Villiers alliance? Will the Aussies rue not having a specialist spinner? Will there be some cloud cover? Can the iffy South African tail show some durability? Is one GC Smith going to come out if it’s touch-and-go in the final session?
Fasten your seat belts; it could be a nerve-wracking Kingsmead final-day ride…