The Proteas need their great all-rounder to find form – and fitness – sooner rather than later, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Much was made of the ‘World Cup countdown’ in the build-up to the ODI series in Sri Lanka. At that point, the Proteas had 24 matches to play before the global tournament in Australia and New Zealand. Coach Russell Domingo declared this a sufficient number of games to settle on a potentially title-winning combination, and to find the answers to some nagging questions.
It was hoped that Jacques Kallis’ renewed commitment to the ODI cause would solve a few of Domingo’s problems. Indeed, who wouldn’t want the game’s greatest all-rounder in their ranks, especially for a tournament as important as the World Cup. His batting record speaks for itself, while his team-mates are forever extolling the virtues of ‘the Old Toppie’ and the key supporting role he plays in the bowling attack.
But the theory may not work in practice, at least not indefinitely. Kallis is already 38, and will be 39 at the next World Cup. There is a chance that he will go on to inspire a title win for the Proteas, but then there is also a strong chance that his ageing body will begrudge him a fairytale finish to a special career.
A creaking back may not be enough to cripple South Africa’s Great One, but it could restrict his role to that of specialist batsman. It’s a concern that should not be understated. The loss of Kallis as a bowling option will impact on the balance of the attack as well as the make-up of the team.
Last Thursday, a back ailment prevented Kallis from receiving some much needed time in the middle during the Proteas’ only warm-up game against the President’s XI. He lasted all of two balls in the first ODI on Sunday before an Ajantha Mendis’ carrom ball proved his undoing. Predictably, Kallis didn’t bowl a ball in that contest because of injury.
The Proteas need Kallis to recover to the point where he can start contributing with the ball. It’s not only his ability to break partnerships that is so coveted, but also his cool temperament in pressure situations. At present, there isn’t a South African bowler bar Dale Steyn who boasts the same combination of mettle, experience, and skill. These are qualities that are needed to win big tournaments.
The Proteas still had the luxury of four seamers and two spin options in that first ODI, and did enough to dismiss Sri Lanka and take an important lead in the series. However, when Kallis is fully fit, this will enable the Proteas to sharpen their all-round threat and strengthen their bid for world supremacy. Because a fit Kallis ticks so many boxes, there will be room for another specialist in that batting order. Ryan McLaren isn’t the worst No 7 in the world with an average of 21.60, but he’s no Michael Bevan either. The Proteas would be better served with David Miller or even JP Duminy coming in at fifth drop. This is only an option, though, if Kallis can do a job with the ball.
It’s important that Kallis’ body remains intact over the next 20-odd matches. It’s important that he contributes with bat and ball and builds some momentum. It’s important that he’s not only fit, but that he’s firing sooner rather than later.
While this ODI series against Sri Lanka is not insignificant, the block of games against Australia in November will be akin to a dress rehearsal to the World Cup, given that this is where the tournament will be staged. It’s in that series where we should expect to see Kallis back to something resembling his best. These are hopeful words, but South Africa’s world title ambitions may hinge on them coming to pass.
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