Sri Lanka in SA
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Kallis helps Tahir's Test case
Cape Town - The likelihood of South Africa fielding a seam-only attack in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Centurion from Thursday is probably receding.
There has inevitably been some speculation that the Proteas would go all out to simply “bomb” the Lankans into submission by leaving out leg-spinner Imran Tahir to facilitate the inclusion in the XI of rookie Titans tearaway Marchant de Lange.
De Lange is in the 13-strong squad named recently for the Test, leading to thoughts that he might be blooded in an all-pace attack also comprising Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander – the find of the Australian mini-series last month - and some assistance if necessary from veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis as fifth element.
But the readiness of the uncapped thunderbolt was in doubt even as he was named in the Proteas group, as he is gradually recovering from a dislocated thumb.
And there is an increasingly strong case, under the circumstances, for the South African brains-trust to put his debut on hold for the time being.
That is because Kallis, after a slightly arthritic sort of start to his bowling season, has typically warmed to his duties in this department and looks in better shape now to be the fourth seamer in a Test attack that could - and should - still embrace the services of slow-bowler Tahir.
High-quality though the South African pace arsenal is known to be, having that essential variety to bowling plans is often vital, especially if the pitch flattens out to an unexpected degree and the faster men suddenly find themselves toiling more than they would like.
Now that JP Duminy is surplus to Test requirements, his useful bursts of off-spin are not available to the cause, so it should only sway Gary Kirsten and company into retaining Tahir for a third Test cap.
The “leggie” revealed some flaws but his attacking ability was also strongly in evidence at times in the shared two-Test series against the Aussies.
Even if the Lankans are accomplished players against all forms of spin, he will be largely a mystery factor against them and his penchant for knocking over a tail cannot be summarily dismissed.
Leaving him out would also send out a bad message: that the Proteas still have a reflex unwillingness to genuinely invest in a wicket-taking spinner, even if he may be inclined toward expensiveness and needs the benefit of a patient approach.
Kallis looks almost as capable as Steyn, Morkel and Philander right now of troubling the Sri Lankans from a seam perspective: he is still able to send down some balls around the 140km/h mark and is not shy to toss in the occasional nasty lifter among his more “stock” fare.
The 36-year-old played a hardly insignificant role with the ball in the Cape Cobras’ triumph in the 1-Day Cup final against the Warriors at Newlands on Friday: he sent down just one over short of a “maximum” stint, for concession of only 39 runs and the scalp of Johan Botha two runs short of a fighting half-century.
Kallis was the most economical of all six Cobras bowlers used, going at 4.33 runs an over.
He had also got through a full 10 overs a few days earlier, in his franchise’s last round-robin fixture against the Dolphins.
Of greater concern to the national cause, perhaps, was the blue-chip batsman again succumbing to a short delivery (from Rusty Theron) in the domestic final, after also not looking too smart against the assault of young Pat Cummins in the final Test against the Baggy Greens at the Wanderers.
But Kallis is among several Proteas players hardly being aided by the chronic lack of first-class opportunity this season: he is badly short of middle time in this format but should rectify that against a Sri Lankan attack unlikely to contain too many “shock” demons.
Similarly, Graeme Smith continues to look rather scratchy at the top of the order: his three 1 Day Cup knocks for the Cobras, from the most recent, have been seven, 33 and two - including respective cheap dismissals by the Warriors at the hands of evergreen Makhaya Ntini.
Nor was Mark Boucher’s wicketkeeping of his more customary high standard on Friday, at a time when the player is also under the microscope for what he offers - or rather, hasn’t especially been offering - in the No 7 spot for South Africa.
Still, he finished the game quite forcefully for the Cobras with the blade, which would have done his confidence no harm, and for the opposition Ashwell Prince also warmed up for the Test suitably with a typically fighting innings of 63 off 87 deliveries.
The left-hander certainly served notice, as if it was even required, of his “knuckle down when the team is in trouble” strengths - he took to the crease with the Warriors 29 for two and they were then quickly 33 for three before he helped steer them to much greater respectability.
The Proteas assemble on Sunday for the first Test at SuperSport Park.