• Farewell to the King

    A tribute to Jacques Kallis, who defined cricket in South Africa over the past two decades, and retired from the international game recently.

    For most young South African cricket fans, there has never been a Proteas squad that didn’t feature Jacques Henry Kallis. Since December 1995, his name has come to define the spirit of South African cricket – gritty, determined and even graceful.

    Graceful? Indeed. Picture that trademark Kallis cover drive. It seemed so textbook, so mechanical when broken down, but witnessed in full flow it truly was a thing of beauty. Just to remind you, here’s a video where he plays it four times in one over off Shane Bond:

    Watched it? Good. Now scroll back up and watch it again. It’s worth the time. That high elbow. The way he flows through the shot. There are few greater sights in cricket, and we had the privilege of witnessing it for close to 19 years.

    Nineteen years … that’s an awfully long time to play cricket at the top level. Admittedly, in the first 24 months of his career Kallis did not cover himself in glory. Seven Tests, 234 runs and an average in the low 20s did not portend a great future.

    But even with those below par numbers, there was an aura beginning to build about the young man. The Proteas selectors stuck with him, knowing that he was, at the very least, going to be a very good South African cricketer. They couldn’t have known he would be the greatest, but in time he provided proof that he was.

    The numbers he finally compiled lie heavy on the page. Over 25 500 runs, almost 600 wickets, and the small matter of 338 catches across all three formats. Most teams can’t boast that kind of experience, let alone one man.

    He lies third on the all-time Test run-scorer’s list, and boasts 45 centuries in the format, just six behind Sachin Tendulkar, who had a six-year head start on the man from Wynberg Boys’ High. And Tendulkar didn’t have to bowl for two decades either…

    Aside from all of the numbers, of course, there is the impact Kallis will leave on the game in this country. You could say he was a vital part of three generations of the South African cricket team. First, he was the uber-talented young buck in Hansie Cronje’s side of bits and pieces players. Second, he was a leading light in Shaun Pollocks’ promising, but ultimately underperforming, transitional team. And third, he was the anchor in Graeme Smith’s juggernaut of a Proteas side. He was a vital member of each of those teams.

    Through it all he played with and against hundreds of young cricketers. There’s no way of quantifying the impact he had in developing the international careers of his teammates. But know this – there is no doubt that Kallis’ influence would have pushed many of those men to achieve far more than they would have otherwise.

    It is that legacy which confirms Kallis as a legend of the game, both here and abroad. Forget the grumbles about his so-called selfishness when he was ‘protecting his average’, and ignore his recent ill-advised return to ODI cricket in pursuit of a World Cup medal. Those are debates for another day.

    For now, focus on his contributions to the game, both on the field and off, and realise that there will never be another like him. Jacques Henry Kallis was not merely a once-in-a-lifetime player. He was a true one-off in the history of the game. And we are all lucky to have been able to share in his genius.

    Farewell, King Kallis. Enjoy your retirement on the golf courses of the world. You’ve earned the break.

    Photo: Getty Images

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    Dan Gillespie