Cape Town – This might make a nice quiz question: before
Sunday, when last did Jacques Kallis bat outside the top five for South Africa
in a one-day international?
For the answer, on a lengthy list of 325 appearances by the
now 38-year-old, you have to trawl back to August 18 1998, and the country’s
closing fixture at Edgbaston – they were eliminated despite winning – against
England in an Emirates triangular series also featuring Sri Lanka.
Kallis duly registered 19 that day, batting behind all of
Messrs Kirsten, Rindel, Cullinan, Rhodes and Cronje for whatever the reason
Of course his most common slot subsequently has been No 3,
and in truth it is where he would have operated once again in the
series-clinching victory over world champions India at Kingsmead, had it not
been for the brilliant opening stand of 194 by the in-form alliance of Quinton
de Kock and Hashim Amla.
With such a sizeable cushion, it made sense for
traditionally quick-scoring captain AB de Villiers to hike himself and one or
two others in the order given the circumstances.
Having to act as some sort of “finisher” from No 6 without
the luxury of good time to get acclimatised to the pitch is not Kallis’s ideal
suit, although he tried his best and unselfishly surrendered his wicket for 10 going
for a slog in the 48th over of the SA innings.
Yet it is also tempting to read a certain hint of symbolism
in the old master – 11,574 ODI runs at 44.86 – effectively being elbowed into a
rare, much lower berth than is customary on the day.
For it may also be a source of at least minor concern that
the yeoman servant is yet to genuinely sparkle this summer, an unusual state of
affairs for an all-rounder with a reputation as a statistical dominator,
whether in Test whites or limited-overs greens.
Kallis looks like a strangely snoozing giant, and if he
doesn’t make a major contribution with bat (likelier, of course) or ball soon,
it is not difficult to imagine a school of thought emerging that he has lost –
and it would not be any fault of his own -- a bit of his old passion after so
many years on the international treadmill.
He has been largely subdued in scoreboard terms, since his
emergence from a lengthy off-season break in early October, and even more so in
terms of weight of actual cricket matches: he has taken part on just seven, all
for South Africa and including a warm-up in Sharjah for the away series against
Pakistan in the UAE.
Presumably he knows better than anyone, at such an advanced
stage of a phenomenal career, just how much game-time he actually needs to
establish and then maintain his best lustre, but at his age you would think
more rather than less cricket would be a suitable prescription for an advanced
veteran and that a bit of domestic combat might be a handy supplement.
As things stand, he looks a little undercooked heading
toward the key business of the two-Test series against the Indians starting in
the middle of next week, although the first home series of the season in the
premier format could be just the ticket to finally getting his juices flowing.
Kallis will want to make up some ground, as the iconic
character registered scores of five, nought and seven in the two-Test series in
the Emirates, and has also only come off substantially once in his four home
ODIs of the 2013/14 campaign – the 50 he got in the loss to Pakistan at
Wednesday’s dead-rubber clash with India at Centurion has
probably become a fairly important date in his quest to capture his groove
against the Indian attack in good time for the Tests.
It’s been a subdued couple of months for Kallis, but class
is indelible, of course, and even if he hasn’t been hogging the headlines
through personal achievement, his very presence in the ranks as a father figure
should not be under-estimated in the Proteas’ advance to a thumping ODI series
win against India.
But yes, it is unusual for Kallis to be performing as a mere
rank-and-filer in stats terms: could that be about to change?
Much of South Africa hopes so ...
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing