On December 14, 1995 - when Jacques Kallis walked to the crease at Durban, little did the cricket fraternity know, here was a legend who would become one of the finest all-rounders, and possibly, South Africa`s greatest sportsman ever. But when the 38-year-old walked on to the same ground 18 years later, on day four of his final Test match, the crowd gave a rousing reception to the man who many believe is arguably the greatest ever all-rounder to have played the game.
It was a slow start by South Africa on day four of the Durban Test. Amid overcast conditions, Kallis and Steyn came to the crease, so did the crowd anticipating a good knock from their legendary sportsman. Kallis walked to the field unbeaten on 78, and he was 22 runs short of what would be a memorable knock in his last Test innings. Even if he scored 30-40 runs, it wouldn`t have done any damage to his image as a world class player. And honestly, I am sure a big knock wasn`t expected from the 38-year-old, who had witnessed a lean patch in 2013. But all these predictions were put to rest by a nervous but determined Kallis, who scored his 45th Test ton.
There are not many cricketers whom you want to score a century against India. But Kallis is one of those rare humble cricketers, who has a fan following all across the world. When he moved to his nineties, his team-mates cheered every run that he scored, and once he ran a single for the hundredth run, even the Indian cricketers applauded the terrific innings from one of the most amazing cricketer ever.
What was delightful to see, was the way the South African players contributed in their legend’s final Test match. Morne Morkel made a miraculous comeback from an ankle-injury, which was supposed to keep him away from cricket for two to three weeks. Dale Steyn – who was struggling to pick wickets in the first Test, bowled his heart out, and wreaked havoc with nine wickets in the second Test. Not only that, the speedster added a valuable 86-run partnership with Kallis. The South African openers added a century-stand in the first innings. Robin Petersen, who replaced Imran Tahir for the second Test, picked four wickets and played a stupendous knock lower down the order. Ab de Villiers continued his good show in the series, and apart from slamming 70 runs, the wicketkeeper batsman also took seven catches. Faf du Plessis scored 43 runs in the first innings and took a blinder to dismiss Shikhar Dhawan. JP Duminy picked a wicket and scored 28 runs. Morkel and Philander picked three wickets each. And to make sure it was a comprehensive victory, Smith and Peterson chased down the required 58 at a quick pace in 11.4 overs, with ten wickets in hand. Barring Hashim Amla, who had a forgettable series, every South African player did make his presence felt with a significant individual performance. Kallis would be extremely proud of the way his team-mates played their heart out in his final Test.
Kallis’ loss is something which is a massive blow for South Africa. They need close to two players to replace a player of his caliber, if not more. In the first Test when Morkel left the field following an ankle injury, South Africa didn`t miss him much because Kallis despite not being totally fit, bowled several overs – something which he has done for the Proteas team, throughout his career. He might not be as quick as Steyn or Morkel, but when needed, the 38-year-old can clock 140 km/h.
The all-rounder`s presence was something that helped the team`s combination. Now that he won`t be playing in Tests, the South African selectors are like to have a tough time selecting a squad for their upcoming tour against Australia.
While Kallis was often compared with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, one shouldn’t forget that simultaneously, he was also compared with the mighty Garry Sobers. A single player’s comparison with such legends in itself is a testament of the all-rounder’s unmatchable class. Whenever we debate saying Tendulkar has six more Test hundreds that Kallis, we shouldn`t forget that the latter has claimed 292 Test wickets compared to Little Master`s 46.
Kallis couldn`t have asked for a better Test for a farewell. It was a match where he completed 200 Test catches, surpassed Rahul Dravid to become the third highest run-scorer in Tests, and finally did something which the trio of Lara, Ponting and even Tendulkar couldn`t – signing off with a century in his final Test innings.