Cape Town – There are 45 to choose from, which makes the task admirably difficult, and opinions, no doubt, will crazily differ.
But I am reasonably firm and content in my own mind over which three centuries – two seen in the flesh and the other bleary-eyed in the early hours from my faraway television room -- in the premier Test arena by Jacques Kallis to grant “podium” status.
The great bastion of reliability and consistency (final Test average 55.37) made his tons over a period between December 1997 and December 2013 – 16 years – and at an array of venues worldwide; he is among an elite 11 to have registered at least one three-figure score against all possible countries.
This is my own most memorable trio of Kallis centuries:
No 1: 162 v England, 2nd Test, Kingsmead, 2004/05
It was a privilege to have made the trek to Durban for what would unquestionably be my favourite Kallis innings ... and also one that began to dismantle his prior reputation among some critics for excessive stodginess (look at his strike rates in later career and you will generally observe a pronounced upward shift on that front). England of the Duncan Fletcher era were the better of the two sides at the time but in Durban Kallis stood defiantly tall in a hard-earned draw for the Proteas. Conditions over the first couple of days undoubtedly favoured seam bowling – the pitch was sometimes little short of spiteful – and England were promisingly skittled for 139 in their first knock. South Africa were in no fine fettle themselves at 48 for two in reply when Kallis took to the crease, but from a typically cautious start he blossomed into a blaze of sparkling, counter-attacking strokeplay against frisky Messrs Hoggard, Harmison, Flintoff and Jones in the pomp of their careers. His cover-driving was of the highest order as Kallis amassed a truly thrilling 162 out of 332 all out (almost 49 percent of the runs: next best Shaun Pollock’s tail-end 43). It was just as well that SA led by almost 200 on the first innings, because as the sun came out England amassed 570 for seven in their second, significantly easier turn at the crease and then pushed spiritedly for victory ...
No 2: 101 v Australia, 1st Test, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1997/98
Yes, it is almost impossible to sidestep his maiden hundred, isn’t it? Being conveniently Cape Town-based, I had watched the rookie Kallis make impressive strides for then-Western Province and been close to the mounting hype around his potential -- Ali Bacher was just one good judge to absolutely insist he was destined for big things. But like so many cricketers, his first few Test appearances had not been without discomfort: a personal best of 61 from nine knocks and plenty of single-figure scores. But then in his seventh Test and first against the might of the 1990s Aussies in their own conditions, the 22-year-old finally announced himself stoically to the world, his second-innings 101 being utterly pivotal to South Africa stealing a draw as largely second-best side in the prestigious Boxing Day Test. Kallis (then his country’s No 3, remember) held the fort for three minutes short of six hours against the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. No less importantly, the Aussies were flabbergasted by the mental “bubble” he got into, making him totally unruffled by and seemingly oblivious to their notorious sledging bouts. It would become a hallmark of his career.
No 3: 161 (and 109*) v India, 3rd Test, Newlands, 2010/11
No pain, no gain. Kallis only underlined that theory, and then some, on the second of two occasions (he’d earlier achieved the feat in Karachi) where he got centuries in each innings of a single Test ... in this case 161 and then 109 not out. Struck a nasty blow to the ribs reasonably early in his first turn at the crease, which caused him to wince violently whenever he played certain strokes, the drawback just seemed to double or even treble his iron resolve. South Africa had been inserted by MS Dhoni in unseasonally bleak and damp conditions for the New Year Test, with the ball jagging about significantly. He was overwhelmingly responsible for translating a ropey start (34 for two) to more minds-at-rest total of 362, as he once again provided almost half of the harvest. But when India resolutely went two runs better, this series-ending Test (it was 1-1 going into it) basically became a nervy second-innings shootout. And the Proteas, for whom Kallis might quietly have been hoping his restricted services would not be required, slumped to 64 for four and then 98 for five. Appropriately aided by his close friend Mark Boucher, however, the big right-hander -- fuelled by pain-killing jabs and on a crumbling pitch in weather suddenly turned scorching – pulled off a key rescue act all over again. The Test, genuinely enthralling for four days, fizzled into a pretty tame draw on day five. But for Kallis’s trio of tons at a beloved stamping ground for him, however, the series would almost certainly have been surrendered.
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