Rob Houwing

Kallis upfront is shrewd move

2009-06-03 08:19
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
I wouldn’t be surprised if the South African line-up which trounced Pakistan in the first warm-up match for the ICC World Twenty20 is barely altered for the duration of the tournament proper.

Perhaps one or two peripheral squad members who didn’t get a run-out at Trent Bridge - where the Proteas prevailed by an impressive 59 runs - will see service in the remainder of the limb-loosening phase, but once the event actually starts I envisage the XI employed in Nottingham getting generous opportunities to gel, unless early disaster strikes.

A key feature of Monday’s side was the stationing of Jacques Kallis as Graeme Smith’s opening partner and Herschelle Gibbs moving down to three. It may have been a fairly tricky decision because the Smith-Gibbs alliance has often been fruitful in all forms of the international game.

It is also a well-known fact that Gibbs is one of those players who likes to get bat on ball early and does not enjoy sitting in the pavilion awaiting his turn at the crease – perhaps it is why short stints he has had as a Test No 5, for instance, have failed to consistently produce the goods (average 26 in six Tests, as opposed to mid-forties average as an opener in immeasurably more games there).

But No 3 in the T20 arena usually would not involve a particularly lengthy wait and, indeed, it may help shield Gibbs a tad, in his advancing years, from the perils of early exit against the new ball – this mercurial, unpredictable player is no stranger to being the man trudging back to the pavilion in the first over, let’s face it.

As it turned out, the new formula “fired” promisingly in the radiant Midlands sunshine, with the Smith-Kallis heavyweight firm – still a useful left-right combo, remember – racking up 80 runs in only 9.2 overs before the latter was first out for 26.

Smith and Gibbs then retained momentum by adding 49 for the second wicket in five-and-a-bit overs, with Gibbs going on to a smooth 42 off 23 balls.

Fairly decent results

Perhaps Mickey Arthur and company have decided to take a leaf from Ray Jennings’s book: the coach of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, who improved hugely this year to be IPL runners-up, firmly believes now that you either open with Kallis in T20 or don’t play him at all.

Significantly, Kallis started the recent IPL either as a No 3 or 4 batsman for Bangalore, but come the business end of the tournament and Jennings had settled on him as an opener, with some fairly decent results.

The Jennings philosophy is that the not naturally flamboyant Kallis open, try to achieve a personal strike rate of around 120, and ideally remain at the crease to around the 12th over.

That way, there ought to be good wickets in hand for the late-innings slog and the scoreboard should look rosy already, with more cavalier batsmen having played the really big shots while Kallis anchored the other side.

Jennings, a former national coach, was pleased with the way the Proteas’ top three performed against the Pakistanis (ICC World T20 runners-up just two years ago), noting when we spoke this week: “We cocked up our second 10 overs, not the first – I felt we should have got to 200.”

SA totalled 186 for seven, which nevertheless turned out to be well enough against Younis Khan’s outfit.

Bedrock figure

Revealingly, Kallis earned his runs at a strike rate of 118, almost bang on what Jennings reckons he ought to regularly aspire to.

The Challengers’ guru says you cannot “blast from both sides” because of the risk of losing too many early wickets, which is where Kallis comes in as a bedrock figure.

And he concurred with me that the veteran all-rounder does possess many of the “boundary strokes” required in T20 anyway: “Jacques just tends to keep his more on the floor.”

It is not as though Kallis is entirely averse to going the aerial route, either: during the IPL, where he became stronger and stronger as a bowling factor too, he reminded that he has the power and timing to go over cover or point for six, and give spinners the occasional two-step for straight-driven “maximums”.

The player has gone a long way of late to conclusively proving that he is, indeed, suited to top-flight T20 cricket after the selection kafuffle that kept him sidelined – and not best pleased – during the inaugural World Twenty20 on South African soil.

And just for the record, Jennings further maintains that Kallis is worthy of consideration for a couple of overs with the T20 new ball, rather than just around middle phases of innings, because of his clever pace variations and effective use of the short ball.

So this tournament may emphatically confirm yet another new lease on life for the remarkable, often under-trumpeted 33-year-old …

Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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