Kallis: End of World Cup road?

2013-05-02 14:03
Jacques Kallis (Getty)
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 tournaments.

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 Trophy no-show.

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 interpret.

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 with this?’

“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 format.

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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  jacques kallis  |  cricket

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