Kallis owes his team

2012-07-21 00:00

THE dire British summer of 2012 is about to get worse, according to the weather forecasters.

For those people actually living there this must be difficult to believe so bad has it been thus far apart from a couple of glorious weeks in May.

It may well be that the eagerly awaited Test series between England and South Africa, sadly blighted by greedy administrators and overshadowed by the Olympic Games, will be further diminished by rain.

This would be a real shame for it is now an uncommon sight in the cricket world for the two best Test match teams to have a go at each other with the number one ranking up for grabs. It is more than likely that both of these teams will be missing some key components of their recent successes when they next meet.

For South Africa the process of losing top players has already begun with the premature departure of the unfortunate Mark Boucher.

Jacques Kallis began his Test career against England in 1995 and it must be likely, though not totally improbable, that this will be his last opportunity to improve his Test match record in that country. Set against his marvellous achievements elsewhere, Kallis has not done particularly well in England. Of his seven Test match hundreds against England only one has been made outside South Africa and that was a long drawn out affair at Old Trafford in a match that South Africa would surely have won had his batting been a touch more forceful.

Kallis has yet to play a significant innings at Lord’s where so many of his team-mates have prospered with the bat. At the Oval in 2003 he was, for once on that track, in complete command when, not for the last time, he was run out backing up too far at the bowlers end, a dismissal that probably cost his team the match. One big innings from him in 1998 in either of the last two Tests would surely have given his team victory in what was the last five match series between these teams.

In 2008, Kallis had an unhappy time against Andrew Flintoff who bowled full and fast interspersed with short pitched deliveries.

In short, Kallis owes both his team and his standing in the game something in England. Of all the English attacks he has played against this will be the best. As a bowling force it has no weaknesses. Graeme Swann is the best off spinner in the world and the Poms will argue that James Anderson is a more dangerous fast bowler under English conditions than Dale Steyn. If Kallis is able to muster his considerable ability to overcome this excellent English attack he will make it difficult for the home team to win this brief series. The reverse, of course, is also true.

Graeme Smith has no problem with his record in England. In eight Test matches he has scored four hundreds of which two were large double hundreds, another a match saving innings at Lord’s and his last knock there was one of the great match winning hundreds of all time. If he can produce anything like the form of his previous visits he will make life a good deal easier for the stroke makers lower down the order.

Given, however, his lack of match practice together with the quality of the English attack and the likely bowler friendly conditions this could be a difficult series for the captain whose weaknesses are not unknown to the opposition.

Mark Boucher’s absence has opened up an opportunity for JP Duminy that was not apparent before the keeper’s injury. Duminy has two hurdles to overcome if he is going to make good on the hyperbolic adulation that greeted his remarkable match winning batting against Australia all those years ago and set him on the path to IPL riches. The first is his frailty against big fast bowlers who prey on his fondness for fishing outside his off stump. It is this weakness that has prevented Duminy from kicking on with a career that was given a lengthy chance to blossom at the expense of the admirable Ashwell Prince whose resolute batting saved his team the last time the Proteas were in England.

The second difficulty facing Duminy is the regularity and ease with which Swan disposes of left handed batsmen. Duminy had enough trouble with Harbajan Singh who is nowhere near as good a bowler as Swan whose talents have been reinforced by the Decision Revue System (DRS). There is no doubt that the DRS has encouraged umpires to be more aggressive in giving LBW decisions even when the front foot is planted down the pitch and the batsmen are becoming increasingly reluctant to challenge such decisions.

This could be the series that re-establishes Duminy as a Test cricketer. The big question is whether he has the mental strength to overcome the challenges that the England bowlers are certain to pose for him. If he can, he will add considerably to the depth of the South African batting. If he fails, it could make it that much more difficult for him to resurrect his career as a Test cricketer.

In Duminy’s case, much might also depend on how well AB De Villiers handles his additional responsibility as a keeper. If it is felt that the team cannot continue with AB behind the stumps, for whatever reason, then one of Duminy or Jacques Rudolph will have to make way for Thami Tsolikele. I have a feeling that this might well happen in which case the two middle order left handers will have just a single match in which to press their claims.

It is these various sideshows, amongst others, that will make the first Test such a fascinating encounter apart from the battle between the two teams. Let us hope that it is not the great British summer that has the decisive say.

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