Pair of unsung batting heros

2011-10-29 00:00

JACQUES Kallis and Ricky Ponting have been playing against each other for donkey’s years. An entire generation has grown up since they first appeared on the scene.

Over the next few weeks they will go into cricketing combat for the last time.

Kallis appears as eternal as Table Mountain, but it’s an illusion, as time stands still for no man.

Ponting is a sprightly fellow, but he’s slowing down in mind and foot.

These fellows count among the four greatest batsmen of the period. Most critics place them a fraction below Brian Lara, the genius with his head in the clouds, and Sachin Tendulkar, the giant with his feet on the ground.

In part, it has been a question of style. Lara’s toes twinkled and his bat was a rapier.

Tendulkar has been a craftsman and a classicist. Both were capable of enchanting the most jaded of observers. Beside them, Kallis could seem ponderous and Ponting pragmatic.

But the Trinidadian and Indian also had their flaws. Lara was capricious and inconsistent. In his case, a polite manner concealed a formidable ego. Nor was he always immune to money’s highest temptation. Lara could thrill, but he could also disappoint

Tendulkar has not imposed himself enough in the critical hour. Nor has he been a leader. Over his career he has been Lara’s superior, yet the West Indian could surpass him on the day. Lara played some of the greatest innings the game has known. It’s like comparing the brilliant and the immense

Kallis and Ponting may not excite crowds as much, but they have been almost as effective. At heart they are the roundhead and the cavalier, the imperturbable South African and the combative Australian. Kallis has been the rock and Ponting the sword, but responsibility has brought their games closer together and nowadays they bat in the same position and advance at about the same pace.

After starting at opposite ends, reason and instinct have met in the middle.

Kallis has been the most underestimated batsman of the era. Impassive, he built a shell around his character and a wall around his wicket, and rarely ventured outside. Along the way he has built a formidable record. Throughout he has been steadfast, remaining the same quietly spoken competitor observed in his early days. It’s hard to remember him losing form or suffering a lapse of technique or outlook.

Nor has it always been easy. Kallis grew up in a simpler, isolated world and expected to play his cricket by those lights. Instead he was pushed by political decree into an age of complication and change. Although he kept his thoughts to himself, at times the compromises irked him because they meant the South African was not playing like against like. Australia arrived as a unified force and betimes met a frustrated opponent

Considerably to his credit, Kallis kept his head and his game. His career has resembled one of his innings. Constancy has been a strength, the ability to keep going, to remain intact till bowling and pitch have lost their sting. In its own way it has been a triumph.

If one innings can measure a man, it might be the 100 scored against Shane Warne at his most predatory. The Victorian sent down sharp spinners and toppies and flippers, and the South African remained unruffled, countering the tweaker by pushing his front foot outside leg stump and relying entirely on his blade. Kallis scored a masterful 100, one of many he has compiled, and not the least.

Ponting began as a brash and brilliant youngster willing to hook the fastest West Indian speedsters, prepared to use his feet to spinners and eager to dominate as soon as he had settled. His journey has been from dashing and occasionally improvident youth to respected elder statesman. It is a transformation that has been impressively accomplished, although recognition has been grudging because the temper of youth is never entirely stilled.

In these twilight years, Ponting is no longer the batsman of yore. Because he is an aggressor willing to trust his eye, age has been harder on him than on his peers. However, his stature is beyond question. His mighty 100 in the 2003 World Cup final told a tale of a fearless, bold batsman, the best his country has produced since Greg Chappell, or even The Don.

Ponting has been reluctant to drop down the list or to curtail the cross bat shots of his early years. He is a survivor, though, and remains determined to contribute. A cannier cricketer might appear in the forthcoming series. Sportsmen of his ilk tend to bounce back.

Oh and a few other points about these great cricketers. Both are superb fieldsmen and outstanding in the cordon. Ponting has led his side to umpteen CWC and Test victories. And Kallis, so they say, can bowl a bit. Before long both countries might ask “when comes such another?”

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