Kallis and Dravid — old dogs showing they can learn new tricks

2009-04-24 00:00

STRANGE to relate, Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid have been the batsmen most affected by 20-over cricket. Admittedly it sounds far-fetched, but these previously dry performers appear of late to have put on red noses, ruffs and other paraphernalia more often associated with light-hearted romps than heavy-minded constructions. In both cases, the run-scorers were forced to re-examine tried and trusted techniques after they were found wanting in these roistering affairs. Both men have been forced to review their cricketing characters.

Both have rediscovered youth, or else found it for the first time (I’ve been 17 and 57 my entire life). Both stride out to bat in 20-over matches and follow instinct, a voice they have hitherto mistrusted.

Of course it has happened before. Exposure to one-day cricket can be a liberating experience. Bob Barber was a blocker until 60-over cricket was started in England in an attempt to save a stagnant game. Carnaby Street, Twiggy and The Beatles were all the rage and meanwhile blokes called Ken Barrington and John Edrich were defending doggedly in dreary five-day matches.

Forced from his self-imposed constraints, Barber turned into a swashbuckling left-hander, good enough to open the batting for his country and aggressive enough to be dismissed for 185 on the stroke of tea in an Ashes match played in Australia. Much the same thing happened to Dennis Amiss, a workmanlike batsman till forced from his shell whereupon he realised the extent of his abilities.

Omitted from South Africa’s 20-over outfit, and ineffective in the first season of IPL, Kallis has changed his mindset. Without exactly embracing insouciance, he has begun to take risks earlier in his innings and plays a much wider range of shots. Previously spectators have admired his predictability and precision. Every Kallis innings was more or less a carbon copy. That is not to belittle him. It’s hard to develop complete control over thoughts and game. Nowadays he plays with the élan seen in French rugby teams. Seeking command, chancing his arm, he loses his wicket to attacking shots. And that is in Test cricket. In shorter capers, he may try to cut his opening ball over cover or lash vividly at a delivery wide of the poles.

Clearly Kallis was stung by his omission from the 20-over World Cup, insulted by the idea he could not play that form of the game. Doubtless he also wanted to join the IPL shindig. Accordingly he set out to make his point, and so the roundhead became a cavalier. For now the results have not been forthcoming, but then the change is in its infancy. Now Kallis’s problem is that his 20-over game has become his main game. Of late he’s been held on the third man boundary and otherwise removed in longer versions of the recreation. Even in Test cricket he looks less settled at the crease. Perhaps he is running out of concentration. Or perhaps his plans overlap too much. Always he has been a cricketer of habit and maybe these changes have been too sudden. Once Kallis is not Kallis who the hell is he?

Dravid had a dreadful year in 2008 and made a complete hash of his first season in IPL. Although classified and paid as an icon player, he was a dead weight in an unduly Cromwellian Bangalore outfit. Frankly he looked over the hill. He poked around like an election scrutineer searching for Zanu-PF votes in a large pile of papers. He scored a few runs, but at the pace favoured by donkeys not thoroughbreds. Apparently the jauntiness of IPL did not suit him. He is not the sort of chap to leave a ground with a pretty girl under each arm and bubbly in his glass. Men of his calibre are inclined to mistake the frivolous for the feckless. Unable to abandon dutifulness, he floundered. By the time he played himself in, the innings was over. Some students are like that. They linger so long that they go straight from graduation to retirement.

Now Dravid is as enterprising as any batsmen in the tournament. Always a fast learner, he realised he needed to give himself license and live with the consequences. Nothing else was going to work. So he did. Admittedly, he first recovered his form in Test cricket, but that was surely the result of the same sense of renewal. He has dropped down the order for Bangalore and plays almost as many forehand cross courts as the leading exponents of the catgut game. Eventually he is caught on the boundary, but so far he has scored at a hectic pace and proven that old dogs can learn new tricks. Above all he has entered into the spirit of the thing. IPL cannot be played with a long face. It’s an amusement. The successful teams knew it from the outset, and now the rest are catching up. Eat, drink and make merry. But keep the brain ticking so that the return journey can be completed.

•Peter Roebuck is an international cricket

correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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