Etched into eternity

2013-12-31 00:00

FOR the past five days, Kingsmead has been about one man — Jacques Kallis — as he played his final Test and signed off on a magnificent cricket career, his name etched into eternity with the finest players the game has ever produced.

After he announced his retirement from Test cricket on Christmas Day, his team-mates wanted to win the match for him and he went out in the best way possible, making his 45th and final Test hundred and seeing South Africa home by a thumping 10 wickets.

He was hoisted high on the shoulders of Graeme Smith and Morné Morkel with a SA flag in his hands as the team wore special T-shirts with a picture of him taking the field on the first day of this match and with “The only player to make 10 000 Test runs and take 200 Test wickets” written on the back.

For the umpteenth time over the five days, Kingsmead rose to Kallis as he acknowledged the crowd, even having a sip or two of beer at Castle Corner. Smith and Morkel had long since put him down, Smith heard to say, “He’s too heavy”.

A modest player who has always kept things low key without much fanfare, Kallis said the decision to retire from Test cricket had been tough and there was no truth in the thought of him perhaps returning to meet the Aussies in February/March next year.

“I have always tried to lead from the front in what I did on the cricket field and never been one to be loud,” he said. “I’ve always believed in playing hard on the field, but having mates off the field as well. That’s the right way to play the game and I think I have achieved that.”

His retirement had been planned for a while and he had chatted in depth about it with Smith and his best mate, Mark Boucher.

“I have always been a player who gives 100% and I felt I had just lost my edge at Test level,” he said.

“The whole thing has been entirely my call and I am convinced it’s the right time. That old adage of waking up one day and knowing it’s time rings true and I always said I wanted to leave SA cricket in a better way than when I started and I think I have done that.”

Although it’s been 18 years since he made his debut as a nervous 20-year-old at Kingsmead against England, Kallis said the years had flown by. “Time goes quickly and I was sitting in the change room the day before this Test started, just looking out over the ground and taking in what was around me. I had got older, but the traditions and essence of the game had remained the same,” he said.

Kallis said his career had exceeded all the dreams he had enjoyed as a small boy, from playing cricket in the back yard with his sister, to the opportunities he was afforded to travel, experience different cultures and have lifelong friends.

“You always dream of those things and it’s unbelievable how it panned out for me, how the selectors kept faith with me in the early days to reach the point I have,” he said.

“I am thankful for every game I played and I thank all my supporters, coaches and Cricket SA for the respect I received from them at this time and giving me the send-off I wanted.”

Modest to the end, Kallis said that records and stats had never interested him and he had just got on with the job of playing cricket. “Maybe one day I will look back and be proud of what I have done, but making more than 10 000 Test runs does bring me some pride.”

There are many highlights to choose from, but Kallis rates his debut as his favourite moment (even though he only scored a single), as his father was there to see it. “That was special. I had my Dad at my debut and my sister on my final day yesterday,” he said.

“I hope I have made the two most important people — my mom and dad — proud.”

As for life after Test cricket, Kallis said he would be working on his golf handicap and enjoying a normal life with family and friends. “Last year was the first Christmas I had enjoyed at home in 18 years and it was an eye-opener for me,” he said.

“Now I am freed up to focus on my One-Day skills and I am excited about that as I want to be the best I can be in the next year in that format and hopefully be at the next World Cup.

“Yes, I would like to give back to the game in some way, as a mentor or coach as it would be stupid not to pass on the knowledge I have gleaned over the years. Also catching up with friends, family and being at home will be important in the next chapter of my life. It’s been incredible, a fantastic journey of memories, adventures and friends who are like family, their friendship lasting beyond just the change room.”

It won’t be the same not seeing the name Kallis slotted in at number four on the Protea Test batting list but the folks at Kingsmead had it right with their banners paying homage to “King” Kallis. The Americans may have Elvis as their king, but the only King of Cricket belongs to South Africa.

Jacques Kallis, we salute you and say thank you.

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