Cape Town – The problem with a senior sportsman pulling out
of a major tournament for “personal reasons” is the potential for intense
speculation such a move inevitably leaves in its wake.
It can, of course, be impolitic to probe too deeply when
that is the explanation given, with privacy to be respected.
But it also probably true to say that veteran all-rounder
Jacques Kallis’s seemingly sudden, late decision to withdraw himself from
consideration for the Proteas’ ICC Champions Trophy squad will have shaken the
domestic cricket landscape.
There are notably few surprises in the 15-strong party
itself, revealed by selection convenor Andrew Hudson at a Newlands media
briefing on Thursday: instead the absence of 321-cap Kallis is what sticks out
like a sore thumb.
Until very recently, there had been no special reason to
assume the 37-year-old Kallis would not take his place; he has very
deliberately been rested more and more from bilateral series – his last one-day
international came against New Zealand at Napier as far back as February 2012 –
but it was thought that he would remain available for broader, high-profile ICC
After all, he has gone on record several times as saying
that winning an elusive World Cup remains a strong personal goal, and that the
2015 version in Australia and New Zealand (when he will be 39) may, in fact,
serve as his swansong in all international cricket.
Kallis has taken part in five prior World Cups, all of which
have seen South Africa fail to even land a berth in the final despite frequent
weight of expectation that they would prosper.
We may come to learn
that there were perfectly understandable reasons for Kallis opting out of the UK-hosted
2013 Champions Trophy specifically, and that the status quo, in terms of the
way his workload is managed in his advancing years, will simply resume after it.
But as things stand, it is also impossible not to begin
thinking that a sixth World Cup appearance for the player looks a greatly
dimming prospect, and that the Proteas may be “moving on” in the 50-overs
environment without him.
A 14-month absence from ODIs is already a considerable
period, and that is now going to extend some months further with his Champions
With Kallis far removed from South African cricket at
present, as he completes another Indian Premier League appearance with Kolkata
Knight Riders, and any public statement not yet forthcoming from the player
himself, where this leaves his international career generally is hard to
Attempts by Sport24 to reach his long-time manager Dave
Rundle, the former SA and Western Province off-spinner, had proved unsuccessful
at the time of writing.
When asked by this writer at the press conference whether he
could shed any further light on Kallis’s non-presence, and also if it would
jeopardise his ongoing contribution for South Africa across all formats, Hudson
replied: “This was Jacques’ request and we’re respectful of that. He’s been a
great cricketer for South Africa.
“I think it’s a little too early to speculate ... at this
stage we accept his decision, for personal reasons, and I’m sure in the next
few weeks we will learn more.”
Elaborating in a one-on-one conversation afterwards, Hudson
conceded that not having Kallis’s rich experience to call on “is a blow”.
For instance, he said the Proteas expected seam-friendly
conditions and that not having his bowling expertise available “as he both
swings and seams the ball in England” would necessitate others stepping up to
fill the obvious void during the June event.
“I’m very bullish about this team ... it’s got some nice
combinations and some fine players. I have high hopes.”
I put it to Hudson that Kallis’s Champions Trophy decision
would probably cause a ripple of concern among his many admirers as a Test
cricketer, possibly fearful now that he may even step down from the game’s most
time-honoured code. Was this really just a tournament-specific decision by him?
“I think we’re going to have to establish that from him.
Obviously he’s in India; it’s not easy doing it telephonically.
“That’s where someone like Gaz (coach Gary Kirsten) is
really good, and close to him; able to sit down and say ‘where are we going
“I think ideally you don’t want an in-and-out scenario (to
develop too much). Jacques is the guy to make that call. If he says ‘listen, my
ODI career is over’ then that’s his decision.
“As long as he is happy to play, we are happy to have him –
he adds massive value to our set-up, and massive balance.
“The answer is really that you’re going to have to ask
Jacques himself. I don’t know what’s caused this decision; maybe Jacques just
feels he’s had enough (in ODIs) and this is a bridge too far.
“And if he decides he’s not actually up for the next World
Cup, then this (UK-hosted tournament) is our golden opportunity to throw others
in and see how they fare under pressure.”
Hudson did seem to hint that Kallis may simply be doing a
“Sachin Tendulkar”, and easing out of 50-overs cricket to try to preserve his
Test freshness in his twilight years.
Tendulkar, who turned 40 on April 24, last played an ODI in
March 2012, just one month after Kallis played his own last fixture in the
As much as the South African team is desperate to claim
another ICC limited-overs title after many years of infamously coming up short
– either at 50-overs or T20 level – perhaps it also needs to be remembered that
Kallis can claim one success in the Champions Trophy.
He was a member of the SA team, under Hansie Cronje’s
leadership, which won the inaugural tournament in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1998,
even though it was initially branded the “ICC Knockout Tournament”.
A little ironically, the final against West Indies was also
the occasion when Kallis registered what remain to this day his best bowling
figures wickets-wise in ODIs: five for 30.
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing