Kallis’s last stand could be the key

2009-01-06 00:00

JACQUES Kallis and the overnight pair stand between a notably cheerful and increasingly anxious host team and a significant victory. With Graeme Smith out of action and a young middle order and wobbly tail to come, it is up to the senior batsmen to produce the substantial innings required.

Kallis’s might be the crucial wicket. Throughout this tight, compelling series he has batted fluently without lasting the course. He has played numerous graceful strokes, but untypically, also found ways to get out. Now he needs to tap his reserves of grit and skill or the cause is surely lost.

Kallis has not always received the recognition he deserves. As the fifth day begins he is 16 runs shy of 10 000 Test runs, at an average of 56. He has taken 250 wickets and caught flies at second slip. On figures he is the second-best all-rounder the game has known, behind the incomparable Garry Sobers. Of the contenders he is the best batsman and stands not far behind Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara on the contemporary list. All the more reason to hope the 33-year-old leaves locals with something to remember.

On the face of it, Kallis seems more likely to save the match than win it. Over the years he has been cast as a dour character, inclined to disapprove of frills. Obliged to build his career in a time of change, forced to abandon the certainties of his raising, he responded by developing a parallel world, and withdrawing into it whenever the political tempest blew. It took the arrival of a more optimistic generation, proud of their country and determined to make it work, for Kallis’s spirit to lighten. He sensed this new mood and started to enjoy his cricket.

In this series Kallis has played an expansive game, sending the total rattling along with often daring assaults. Facing the last few overs at the end of a long day in Perth, with the clock ticking towards 8 pm, he unleashed an attack so withering that the mood of the match changed. At 7.55 pm, he hooked a bumper into the stands thereby recording the latest six ever struck in Test cricket.

Casting aside his trademark mechanical method, Kallis has been as audacious against spin. About the only thing he has not done is play a major innings. Mitchell Johnson has had his measure, tempting him into indiscretions gobbled up by close catchers. Kallis has cursed not so much his luck as himself. In the past he might have blamed these lapses on his workload as a bowler. None of the recent all-rounders has batted as high in the order. But Kallis does not conserve his energies, gives the team everything he can.

Yesterday he sent down 10 exacting overs that cost 13 runs. Repeatedly he has pegged back the scoring with a tight spell. Often he has dashed across to advise a bowler.

He has become a rock of a different sort, upon which a team can be built. All the more reason to wish him well in possibly his last Test innings on Australian soil.

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