18 years at the top

2013-12-27 00:00

KINGSMEAD rose as one yesterday to pay homage to and salute a giant of South African and world cricket when Jacques Kallis walked down the steps from the dressing room and onto the field in his 166th and final Test.

Kallis had announced his retirement from Test cricket on Christmas Day, saying this Test would be his last, on the same ground he made his debut in 1995, in the Third Test against England. He was barely noticed as he made one, batting at six, in a match ruined by rain and which allowed only the South African innings and part of England’s reply.

That was 18 years ago and a sign of his longevity is given by casting an eye at some of the names in those teams. South Africa had Andrew Hudson, Gary Kirsten, Hansie Cronje, Daryll Cullinan, Dave Richardson, Craig Matthews, Brian McMillan and Jonty Rhodes in the team, while England had Robin Smith, Dominic Cork, Mike Atherton, Graeme Hick, John Crawley, Jack Russell and Richard Illingworth — now a Test umpire — in the ranks.

They have all played the game at the highest level, yet it was the young Kallis who stood tall and dominated world cricket in the years ahead. Announcing his decision, Kallis said, “It’s been an honour and a privilege to be part of the South African Test team since my debut 18 years ago. I have enjoyed every moment but I feel the time is right to hang up my Test whites.”

Many people have been surprised by the decision, especially with Australia visiting our shores in February/March next year and playing a Test at Newlands, Kallis’s home patch.

“It wasn’t an easy decision with Australia’s visit just around the corner, but I feel I have made my contribution in this format of the game,” he said.

“The last two years have been a phenomenal journey as we reached our peak as a Test team and I count myself fortunate to end my Test career with a phenomenal group of talented cricketers and cherished friends.”

It’s perhaps one of cricket’s biggest under-statements for Kallis to feel he has contributed to Test cricket. He leaves the arena as a mighty player, one of the best of all time, spoken of as an all-rounder in the same breath as the great West Indian Garry Sobers.

In a game dominated by statistics that determine the greatness and value of a player, Kallis will take some beating. Every once in a while, certain players come along, gracing the fields of the world, endearing themselves to followers and standing tall as true icons of the game. They are irreplaceable and the cricket connoisseur knows to value every moment as Father Time will inevitably have the final say.

And so he has on a player who will forever be spoken of for years to come, as one of cricket’s greatest. From making his debut as a 20-year-old, he has amassed 13 174 runs (with batting in this Test still to come) at 55,12, with 44 centuries and 58 fifties. His highest score was 224 against Sri Lanka at Newlands. He has added 292 wickets and 199 catches and is second only to Sachin Tendulkar in the number of Test centuries scored. The Indian master scored 51 Test hundreds at 53,78 in scoring 15 921 runs. Fellow Indian batsman Rahul Dravid, with 13 288 Test runs, leads Kallis in the runs scored department.

Twice Kallis scored five consecutive Test centuries, in 2004/05 (four vs West Indies, one vs New Zealand) and 2007 (three vs Pakistan, two vs New Zealand).

However, while this is a Test farewell, Kallis has assured the cricket world he still has an eye on the 2015 World Cup, something which has eluded his impressive CV.

“It’s not a goodbye as I still have the hunger to push South Africa to that 2015 World Cup if I am fit and performing,” he said. “Winning an IPL title with Kolkata was special, but I want success with the Proteas at an ICC tournament.”

Tributes have come from Proteas coach Russell Domingo and his teammates. At the toss yesterday, Smith said, “It’s been an emotional few days knowing this was coming. I cannot imagine a Proteas Test dressing room without Jacques. He has been there through all my years and has always been a constant.”

Domingo said, “His impact on South African cricket as a player and person has been immense. We won’t see a player of his stature soon. His calmness, maturity and presence will be sorely missed.”

Cricket South Africa president Chris Nenzani was glowing in his tribute. “It is time to reflect not only on his great contribution to the game, but on the legacy he leaves behind. He is a South African sporting hero who has remained true to the best traditions of the game and sportsmanship, always rising above any controversy.”

Cricket SA CEO Haroon Lorgat said, “He has been South Africa’s Rock of Gibraltar for nearly two decades. He is a legend and his statistics speak volumes, making him the greatest all-rounder of all time. Only he knows what his body can take but we take heart that he is still available for the 2015 World Cup.”

His team-mates have left some of their thoughts on Twitter:

“140 characters just won’t be enough to do u justice, so in short then, Jacques Henry Kallis, we salute you.” — AB de Villiers.

“An amazing career from arguably South Africa’s greatest sportsman. Looking forward to one last game in whites with this legend.” — Hashim Amla.

“And so after the Boxing Day Test, comes to an end a Test career of the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen, certainly in my eyes.” — Alviro Petersen.

“Been an honour to share a change room with one of the greats of the game. May we give you the send- off u thoroughly deserve.” — JP Duminy.

“And the Test cricketing world says goodbye to another legend, if not the greatest. Cheers Woogie! You will be missed.” — Mark Boucher.

“Congrats. Seems like just the other day! Thx for the memories & friendship! All the best with your last Test!” — Shaun Pollock.

“Was an honour and privilege to work with the greatest all round cricketer of all time.” — Rob Walter, former SA fitness and fielding coach, and current Titans coach.

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