Kallis' gone. Now what?

Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
With the kerfuffle of the politicking between Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) now done and dusted, CSA face a new pickle. A man who has for the most part of 18 years been a stalwart in the team will no longer play for the side in Test match whites and they need to find somebody else to fill his role.

Replacement is a cruel word to use, because nobody is going to replace Jacques Kallis. It’s more of a permanent substitute which will most likely take place on a trial and error basis. But where does one even begin to begin considering a substitute of adequate stature in this situation?

Prior to his hundred against India at Durban, Kallis had had a pretty average year with the bat and, for the latter part of his career,  his bowling has often taken a back seat due to the demand it puts on an older athlete’s body. When Morne Morkel picked up an injury in the first Test, though, Kallis duly stepped up to fill the role and his overall worth in the side was made pretty clear.

From the team’s perspective, Kallis’ retirement timing could not be worse. The Proteas face a revitalised Australian team for three Tests in February/March and whoever steps into the side will be thrown into the deep end of the fire pool.

The transitional phase is going to be one of South Africa’s toughest tests yet. They have blooded many rookies over the last 18 months, mostly with success thanks to the wealth of talent that surrounds the youngsters. Allowing those who step into the side to go out and be comfortable in playing their natural game has been the hallmark of this South African Test side. The transition, therefore, should be relatively seamless, but first a candidate for the vacancy needs to be identified.

There is no player in the country, or perhaps the world, who’d be able to fill a duel role in the way Kallis did. Instead, the Proteas have to regenerate the identity of their team. The most logical option is to start off with a shift in the batting order. Faf du Plessis has already showed some rear guard ability and shifting him up the order seems a salient choice. This frees up a position lower down the order for South Africa to do with as they please.

There are a few candidates for the vacancy.

First in line is possibly Dean Elgar, who has been with the side for some time, but whose performances have been underwhelming. His inclusion means an increase in workload for South Arica’s fast bowlers while the spinners will have to be relied upon to play a holding role

Then there is Ryan McLaren,  the workhorse, domestic veteran who has played a solid role in the limited overs format, but whose inconsistency is bothersome and lack of first-class cricket due to international commitments means he might be out of the rhythm of the longest format of the game. He has played just one first class game for the Knights this season  taking three wickets in the match and scoring 42 and 6 respectively.  In a like-for-like replacement, McLaren is perhaps the closest substitute South Africa have got. With more time out in the middle in the longer format, perhaps McLaren’s performances will be more consistent  as there is far less pressure when surrounded by a plethora of talent. He has played just one Test for South Africa, against England during 2010, and at 30 years old, he perhaps has another four years left, giving South Africa enough time to balance the scales at the end of an era.

Outside chances for the spot are Thami Tsolekile, Quinton de Kock and rookie Stiaan van Zyl. Tsolekile currently serves as backup wicketkeeper and might end up getting a chance anyway due to an injury to De Villiers. De Villiers has had to undergo surgery to fix a hand injury and although it is believed that he should recover in time, Tsolekile will be the replacement if not. However, as a swap for Kallis, he is not exactly what South Africa needs. De Villiers has shown that he is  more than capable of performing both behind the stumps and with the bat in hand and as long as his back injury stays at bay, there’s no need to tinker with the line-up.

De Kock’s performance in the limited overs setup, meanwhile, has had many calling for his inclusion in the Test side. He is, however, not quite cut from the patient cloth that is the hallmark of Test cricketers and even if he were to be included, he should not be keeping or opening the batting. His first-class record is more than solid, with an average of 51.96 in 19 games, but, like Tsolekile, he doesn’t offer much to the team from all-round perspective.

Van Zyl is the last outside batsman. Having been earmarked for international success, the Cobras player has consistently topped the first-class averages and has scored 456 runs at an average of 91.20 this season in six innings. Last season he scored 673 in nine games at an average of 61.18, the second-highest of the competition.  He remains nothing more than an outside contender, but the left-hander is looming on the fringes of international cricket and banging on the door for his call-up. If South Africa are in search of nothing more than a batsman, who can sometimes bowl a bit, then there’s no one better than Van Zyl.

Whatever happens, the Kallis-substitute should be given time, patience and, if he can, try and get Kallis to change his mind.

Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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