The Proteas have sufficient time before the World Cup to offset the loss of Jacques Kallis following his retirement from all international cricket.
Kallis has been hailed as one of South Africa’s greatest sporting heroes this past week, and rightly so. So many have opted to pay tribute to the game’s most accomplished all-rounder with his whole career in mind. Few, if any, have focused on the impostor whose comeback to the ODI format lasted all of seven matches.
It was always going to be a tough ask for a 38-year-old, especially one with a history of back problems, to keep performing at this elite level. And yet so many, including this writer, felt Kallis’ comeback was necessary. The Proteas needed his experience and mettle going into a World Cup, especially in the bowling department. They also needed the balance he brought to the side as an all-rounder.
But that option is no longer on the table, and the Proteas should be grateful that there is still sufficient time, some 21 ODIs, to explore others.
Kallis has done South Africa a terrific service over the past 19 years and, in typical fashion, has done them another favour by bowing out. South Africa will now be forced to find a replacement instead of hoping that an ageing Kallis recaptures the form of his youth sooner rather than later.
The Proteas must shift their focus to the 2015 World Cup. They were outstanding in Sri Lanka, and the team, the new captain Hashim Amla, and the coach Russell Domingo all deserve credit for a successful tour that included ODI and Test series triumphs. Those boxes have been ticked. There will be a one-off Test against Zimbabwe this coming weekend, and a Test series against West Indies at the end of the year, but even the greatest of spin doctors would fail to hype these matches as contests of consequence.
No, South Africa must focus on their preparations for the World Cup. They have 21 matches to settle on a side capable of winning the tournament. Kallis was once considered a vital piece of the puzzle. Now that he’s retired, the Proteas need to fill that gap.
They won’t replace Kallis’ experience. They don’t have any genuine all-rounder options, that is a player who could be selected solely for his batting or bowling prowess. Indeed, the few options that they have are bowling all-rounders, but perhaps the recent rise of a young batsman is significant. Perhaps this will provide South Africa with the required balance to their starting XI.
Quinton de Kock doubles as a wicketkeeper and a top-order batsman, and his inclusion allows ODI captain AB de Villiers more freedom to focus on his own batting as well as the team tactics. De Kock has proved that he has style and substance, and will benefit from an extended run at the top of the order. He will get better with experience.
Ryan McLaren is another who has contributed consistently for South Africa. That contribution has been in the bowling department, but now that Kallis has departed, he may be expected to play a greater role with the bat in the lower order.
Vernon Philander has played some patient and measured innings in the five-day format, but is a naturally aggressive batsman and could be a valuable asset to the Proteas ODI side down the order. Together, McLaren and Philander should contribute as all-rounders in the next 20-odd ODI games, and at the World Cup itself.
You begin to understand the value of Kallis when you realise what it will take to replace him. Backing De Kock, McLaren, and Philander in the aforementioned roles should give the Proteas a good chance of filling that massive void.