Kallis deserved Newlands finale

Cape Town - It is very gratifying that Jacques Kallis, undoubtedly one of this city’s foremost sporting sons, bowed out on his own terms.

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That’s as it should be.

Much more saddening, at least to me, is that he didn’t get a goodbye of proper gravitas at Newlands, his symbolic, treasured home and widely considered one of the most idyllic cricket venues on planet Earth.

Instead the last time he did duty for the South African cause - his 519th appearance across the three codes - was in the slightly soul-free environment of the newly-constructed Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in Hambantota, Sri Lanka.

Considering that it hosted its first international of any kind in 2011, it hardly reeks of awe-inspiring heritage (for the record, Rajapaksa is the country’s president and commander-in-chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, not even some blistering stroke-player or bewitching spinner).

Oh, Kallis got a scratchy four runs and bagged a catch in the decisive one-day international, which saw the Proteas seal a praiseworthy 2-1 series win.

I was abroad when the much earlier news broke that he’d decided during the second of only two controversial Tests last summer against India at Kingsmead - a place that, like many others, struggles hideously for big Test gates these days - to call time on his Test career, albeit comforted at the time that he was supposedly pushing on for a good while in ODIs.

It was fitting that he should sign off with a trademark century on that occasion, helping the country to a 1-0 mini-series triumph, even if the ground was anything but heaving as he was transported by team-mates on a lap of honour.

Of course Newlands at New Year - one of the ever-shrinking hubs of guaranteed good crowds - was the initially intended, traditional destination for a third and final Test between these foes, but complex tensions between the rival boards scuppered that fixture.

That’s where Kallis would instead, logically and no doubt extremely happily, have called time on his career in the five-day format, the one he graced the best and which somehow still commands the supreme statistical weight and relevance for the world’s foremost cricketers.

Clearly he’d already realised that the challenge of thunderbolt Mitchell Johnson and his Australian colleagues just a few weeks later was a bridge too far in the twilight phase of his marathon, quite marvellous SA tenure.

While he commendably, it seems, bowed to the ravages of time, it must have irked him no end that Newlands ironically did make it onto that particular three-Test roster.

Perhaps that very fact teased and tempted him, too, though still that little message in his head “no, the time is right to quit” managed to hold sway.

Instead over the course of the New Year period at Newlands, and with a gaping hole to fill, the Kallis tribute ended up being one deeply unsatisfactory to the traditionalist in me and perhaps others ... a Twenty20 hit-and-giggle between a Proteas XI and the Springbok rugby players.

Sharing the field with several luminaries of the oval-ball game - one in which Kallis was also no slouch for Wynberg Boys High first XV, I vividly recall - would have brought its own, unusual kind of gratification for him, of course.

The turnstiles cranked most healthily too.

But it still doesn’t trump an illustrious cricketer, as is so often the appropriate norm, closing his playing chapter in his most comfortable habitat, before his most appreciative fans ... and in an international-level game of consequence.

That happened for Sachin Tendulkar, with the BCCI at least doing the right thing in his case (not to mention shrewdly identifying a marketing and revenue-generating opportunity) by ensuring his final Test would be in birthplace Mumbai.

Another Kallis contemporary for some years, Australia’s Steve Waugh - in whom I saw many similarities for sheer, awe-inspiring competitive juices - also timed things perfectly by bowing out in a decisive, series-ending Test against India at a throbbing Sydney Cricket Ground and scoring 40 and 80 for his Baggy Greens’ cause.

What you can say for both Waugh and Kallis is that they seemed to better judge when to step down from Tests, as opposed to Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting who found the going so hurtfully lean at the crease in their last few matches.

You can’t blame Cricket South Africa for the manner in which Kallis’s South African service, spanning 20 calendar years, has ended: as with his Test career, his one-day portion has shut rather abruptly at his own behest.

It’s been a clumsy, awkward few months, in which Kallis tried vainly to keep that elusive World Cup flame flickering, before realising his heart and mind are no longer fully in it - kudos to him for acknowledging it, and acting decisively.  

No offence to Hambantota, but hell, I do wish the SA swansong could have been at Newlands, the ground where he averaged almost 73 with the blade in 22 Tests, for JH Kallis.

Even a second prize of being assured, say, that his last Cape Town limited-overs appearance for South Africa might be in the upcoming season’s visit by West Indies (he could have been attractively fitted into the January 9 T20 Newlands clash, couldn’t he?) would have been some solace for his staunchest admirers.

Instead, a little piece of me will rue that Kallis’s Proteas closure seemed a bit too much like the epic party that fizzled to a finish with the music’s volume turned down and only four stubborn souls left on the dance-floor because a neighbour had called the cops to quell the vibe.

The planets just didn’t align properly for him in his national wind-down, in terms of our ability to celebrate it in the right manner.

Am I alone in that view?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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