There is life after Kallis

2012-12-08 00:00

AFTER tea on the first day of the Perth Test, someone turned on the switch that supplies energy to the Proteas. Suddenly the luminaries in the team fired up with an intensity that had been largely absent during the first two matches of the series.

From looking inferior to a moderate Australian team, the South Africans began to play with the dazzle and style of the best team in the world.

Faf du Plessis and the tailenders had lifted the score from 76 for six to a vaguely respectable 225, but considering what had happened to our attack in the first two Tests, this total looked well short of par. One should rarely judge a first innings score until both teams have batted and so it proved at the Waca.

For the first time on the tour the South Africa pace trio found a pitch to their liking. It gave them enough pace, bounce and sideways movement to make life awkward for the Aussie batsmen and they all bowled brilliantly.

For once the two Michaels — Clarke and Hussey — were unable to rescue the Aussies from yet another poor start and in no time they had lost six wickets for fewer than 50 runs.

The Aussie tail wagged for a while, but was then disposed of by the underestimated Robin Peterson, who bagged three first innings wickets on his long delayed return to Test cricket.

Buoyed by a useful first innings lead, the Proteas then tore into the hapless bowling of the Aussies’ reserve pace attack.

By the end of the second day Australia were all but out of a game that they had dominated for most of the first day. The change in fortunes had been as sudden as it was thrilling.

Once again, Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith were superb.

The captain was his usual brutal self. He bludgeoned the Aussie attack to all parts of the ground until he fell to a wonderful catch when another century was well within his grasp. Amla, on the other hand, toyed with both the bowling and Clarke’s captaincy.

Amla is not an arrogant man, but his batting displayed a confident lack of respect as he moved about the crease to ease the ball into vacant spaces.

As is his custom, he went on and on plundering runs at will until he, too, was dismissed by a brilliant catch just four runs short of another double century.

In six Tests this year against England and Australia, Amla has scored four hundreds in 11 innings and been run out twice.

It seems the only weakness in his repertoire is his ability to say “no” to his batting partners in a loud and clear voice. I have written before that Amla needs to take greater care of his wicket, but his team-mates should also take care with his running between wickets.

Then, at last, we saw AB de Villiers at his outrageous best. He produced an audacious innings full of daring strokes as only he, in this team, can play. It illustrated just what he is capable of doing and what the team missed during both the England series and most of this one Down Under. Gone was the tentative footwork that had plagued his batting for most of this year.

There is no doubt that the selectors are faced with a conundrum in respect of De Villiers.

They will probably not want to jeopardise the balance of the team by finding some one else to keep wicket. With Kallis likely to do less bowling it is difficult to see what other options Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten really have.

AB has done well behind the stumps and the hope, I presume, is that he will become the Adam Gilchrist of this team.

Their real problem starts when JP Duminy is fit to resume his place in the team. If Kallis does not bowl, a choice will have to be made between a seventh batsmen or a fourth fast bowler to back up the three quicks and Peterson. They could, of course, go with Duminy as the fifth bowler, but this would be something of a risk, although no more than the risk they took in Perth with just the four front line bowlers.

When South Africa bowled for the second time at the Waca, Peterson again took three wickets, but this time he felled the two big Aussie scalps, Clarke and Ponting.

I thought the Aussies made a mistake by going after Peterson, who is a cannier bowler than he looks.

Their strategy seemed to be to try to knock him out of the attack, thus throwing a greater burden on to the three fast bowlers.

It might have been better for them to have shown more patience against Peterson and accorded him more respect.

His control is not as tight as one would expect of a finger spinner, and a more patient approach would still have yielded runs without gifting the Proteas the two big wickets that made saving the match impossible for the Aussies.

Peterson will have many less fruitful matches for the Proteas, but his presence in the team at the expense of Imran Tahir has strengthened its batting, bowling and fielding.

Tahir represented some wishful thinking on the part of the selectors, but surely they will now continue with a more pragmatic approach.

The post-Kallis era of this team is not yet upon us, but the first inklings of life without the great all rounder have begun. For years he has provided the ballast to this team. The selectors have not had to worry about the balance of the side ever since he came into it.

It is ironic that for many years we have all fretted that his run-making ability would be irreplaceable, but with so many class batsmen in this team, and JP Duminy certain to return once he is fit, it may well be that it is the Kallis bowling that will be most sorely missed.

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