Masterly Batting: 100 Great Test Centuries – compiled and edited by Patrick Ferriday & Dave Wilson (Von Krumm Publishing, October, 2013)
Jacques Kallis: 161 v India (Newlands, January 2011)
Jacques Kallis and most of his accomplishments can be distilled into one short word: cold. It’s in the pulseless precision he brings to even his most flamboyant strokes, the world’s neither stirred nor shaken reaction to him, and the feeling the more mortal among us have when we enter his icy presence.
There is more discernible humanity in Shivnarine Chanderpaul taking a moment to mark his guard with a bail than there is in a day of Kallis at the crease, even though the former is a temporary scratch in the earth and the second is often chiselled into the annals.
Even Kallis’ fake hair looks frozen, as unthawable as his perfectly perpendicular bat in the long moment after a lofted drive. He has fashioned one of the great careers with the passion he might have brought to mowing the lawn.
This is not to paint Kallis as some bloodless run machine. But it is difficult for those of us who will never finish our lofted drives with perpendicular bats not to think of him as such – as an organism not fully formed unless there are runs to score, creases to occupy, or wickets and catches to take. It’s not him. It’s us.
Without cricket there would no Kallis as we know, respect and are befuddled by him. Without Kallis cricket – in particular South African cricket – would not be half the game it is.
These truths and half-truths had been self-evident for so long that there was no questioning them when India arrived in South Africa in the first week of December, 2010 to play three Tests.
Even when Kallis walked to the wicket an hour before tea on the second day of the first Test at Centurion, that everything we thought we knew about him was to change was not apparent. How could it be when that change was, in its own context, evolutionary.
It took almost six-and-a-half hours to be effected; 389 minutes, in fact, involving 270 deliveries, 15 fours, five sixes, a sacred look at the heavens in dedication to his father and a profane drive off an imaginary golf tee in giddy celebration of the prize of lifetime membership of an exclusive country club that his feat had secured.
It was what Kallis had not achieved in his 50 series, 142 matches and 241 innings that had come and gone before – many lesser players had reached this milestone earlier. It was a Test double century and it was, as much as any other single event in his life, the making of Jacques Henry Kallis.
It was the moment of his global warming, the long and winding instant he became more human than he had ever been, as well as one of three centuries scored by South Africans in reply to India’s first innings of 136. They had been roughed up on a pitch designed to accomplish exactly that, and they started their second innings in a hole 484 runs deep.
Sachin Tendulkar dug them some way out of it with an unbeaten 111, not just a fine performance but also his 50th Test century. The eruption was heard, felt and seen around the world. How Tendulkar must have envied Kallis: one day, with luck, he will also be allowed to achieve his humanity.
Kallis’ confirmed his new, merely human, status in his innings of 10 – run out at the non-striker’s end after backing up to far – and 17 – dropped on nought but out soon enough fending a brute of a Sreesanth delivery to gully – at Kingsmead, where India, humbled by an innings in the first Test, levelled the series.
It was only their second win in 14 Tests in South Africa, and the fact that it was achieved in the wake of a drubbing told the South Africans that they were not dealing with the tabbies the Indians had been on previous tours: this time they were tigers.
And so to Cape Town, where the world’s two best teams would try, one more time with feeling, to decide which of them was the best.
It is at Newlands that this story begins as well as ends, but the layers of meaning added by the events that preceded it are crucial to its understanding – and to fully appreciating the role that Kallis played in its making.
India had come to South Africa with the No. 1 ranking in their hearts and Gary Kirsten in their minds. No-one was surprised when they failed abjectly to come to terms with the conditions at Centurion, and South Africans who had seen their side go down to Sri Lanka at Kingsmead the season before knew another defeat in Durban – which seems to have become the last place their national team wants to play – was feasible.
But if the Indians had their haughtiness dented by being treated like any other opponents in the first test, the South Africans seemed offended to have been beaten in the second. Cape Town, then, would offer a cure for both ills. Or would it be for just one, or even none?
MS Dhoni looked up, saw clouds over Newlands, called correctly for only the second time in 15 Tests, and declined to bat. That was India’s first mistake, especially as rain and bad light meant just 37 overs were bowled before tea. Their second error was to fail to exploit the limited opportunities they had to apply pressure. But they did manage to remove Graeme Smith before the first rain delay and Alviro Petersen shortly after the resumption.
It was not quite half-past-one on a dreary Sunday afternoon when Kallis walked his imperious walk down the stairs, over the boundary and to the middle. The first delivery he faced, bowled by Ishant Sharma, curled away and was left well alone. Kallis shouldered-arms to Sharma’s next delivery, an inswinger that found the thigh pad and moved sharply enough to prompt Hashim Amla to make the journey from the other end of the pitch for a chat.
Kallis took nine balls, eight of them Sharma’s, to get off the mark, which he did with a nudge to cover point off Zaheer Khan. Two deliveries later he unleashed a stroke of savage power to put Sreesanth through the covers for his first boundary – back, across, forward, bang. He was 12 when he edged Khan onto his back leg and was almost bowled.
Amla, meanwhile, rose above all that to play what for him was an out-of-body innings, a display of flash and dash that looked doomed to be ended sooner than it was – with a miscued pull to a bouncer from Sreesanth.
At the other end of the pitch Kallis, who had faced 35 balls for his 16 when Amla got out for 59, showed no flicker of alarm or anything else. Anxious, fidgety AB de Villiers took charge of the next seven deliveries. Kallis kept calm as he did so, then faced four more without scoring or worrying about not scoring.
Not so De Villiers, who found a way to drive a swinging ball from Khan down the ground for four. Kallis’ response was to block three of Sreesanth’s efforts and steer the fourth – tossed up invitingly – into the covers for a single.
Tea came with South Africa steady on 125/3. In the moments before play resumed, the Indians buzzed in their huddle and De Villiers was down the pitch, looking to disguise imperfections in the surface.
None of that for Kallis, who kept stoic counsel with himself at his end. Not for the first time in his storied career and surely not the last, he was the centre of the game – he waited for it to come to him, not the other way around. This is easily mistaken for arrogance: does Kallis fancy himself bigger than all of cricket? More important than its other protagonists? No. He knows his place, but he also knows that there are few who can share that place with him.
A run accrued to each of Kallis and De Villiers in that first over of the session, which was delivered by Harbhajan Singh. Sharma took charge of the second over and beat Kallis both with outswing and inswing. Then De Villiers took two singles off Harbhajan. Sharma returned, eager to build on his work of an over before. His first ball swung in. Kallis defended. The next delivery splayed full towards the leg side. Kallis dismissed this ordinariness from his presence and to the midwicket ropes for four. Whatever pressure Sharma had managed to muster went with it.
Kallis also took a single off that over, and three runs off the next – which culminated in De Villiers turning on the style to drive a perfectly pitched, turning delivery from Harbhajan through the covers for four.
Runs did not flow, but they were also not rare. They were coming as and when the batsmen saw fit to take them; a mode of batting that suited the patient, assured Kallis more than it did the urgent nature of De Villiers.
Kallis’ next boundary was nothing so ostentatious, just a nudge of an angled bat to put Sharma through fine leg. Three balls later a similarly veering delivery was met with more bat and stabbed between short leg’s planted feet for two. Sharma’s next effort was too full, and Kallis squeezed the trigger on a handsome on-drive only for Harbhajan to tumble into a fine stop.
This slow but sure rhythm was maintained without significant interruption – save for De Villiers drilling a wayward offering from Sharma into Cheteshwar Pujara’s thankfully protected shin at short leg – until, in the over after the drinks break, Sreesanth produced a sublime outswinger that took the edge of De Villiers’ bat and flew to MS Dhoni.
The partnership was thus ended at 58, South Africa were 164 for four, and India thought they saw a chink in the home side’s armour. Kallis disabuses them of that notion with the next delivery, from Harbhajan, which he leaned into and steered to midwicket for the single that took him to 50.
The milestone had taken 98 balls to arrive and it was mildly spiced with four boundaries. In other words, exactly to Kallis’ and South Africa’s tastes.
Criticism of Kallis over the years has tended to label him as selfish; not a team man; more interested in his maintaining his average than doing what needs to be done to win or save a match.
The truth in this is that Kallis is selfish in the Ayn Rand sense, as in, “the man who does not value himself cannot value anything or anyone”.
And, “In a free society one does not have to deal with those who are irrational. One is free to avoid them.”
And, “In order to deal with reality successfully – to pursue and achieve the values which his life requires – man needs self-esteem; he needs to be confident of his efficacy and worth.”
Or even, “Man’s basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know.”
These are dangerous ideas that go to the extremes of what it means to be human in a world that has to make room for other humans, and are sometimes used as excuses to commit societal brutality by those who refuse to make that room.
They are ideas that Kallis – who is entirely likely to wonder “batsman or bowler?” when asked if he knows who Ayn Rand might be – has probably never entertained.
But he is no less Randian for that. In fact, more so: it is his bedrock nature to be rational and confident of his efficacy and worth, and to focus his mind to the exclusion of any and all else he does not want to think about. He is, in the most worthy way, selfish. He is this way not because he read a couple of fat books called “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. He is this way because he is this way.
As Kallis stood there, bat raised to accept the gratitude of his home crowd for scoring another sturdy half-century, his selfishness was celebrated as it had been many times before.
But proof that Rand didn’t have all the answers came with the next ball Kallis faced. It was delivered by Sreesanth, and pitched on a length and leapt up and away. Even Kallis’ cold steel instincts could not prevent him from being drawn towards its line. The edge fell short of the cordon and streaked away for four.
Four balls later Sreesanth was roaring for Kallis to be given out lbw. Simon Taufel shook his head. Hawkeye said Sreesanth had the stronger argument.
By then, Kallis had been joined by Ashwell Prince – a left-handed version of himself in terms of grit and powers of concentration, though not in talent and skill.
Well might the Indians have groaned. The same two men, playing on the same ground in 2007, had eroded the visitors’ resolve with batting so dour it made manila envelopes look pornographic by comparison. At times in their stands of 77 and 83 off 167 and 229 balls respectively, the earth stopped turning just to see how long they could treat Newlands like their personal Zen garden.
This time, Kallis and Prince kept their opponents and all who watched them more entertained. Their partnership yielded 98 and came off 197 deliveries. Dour it was not. It was a product of intense focus and superb application to the task.
An edge by Prince off Zaheer that looped over where a fourth slip would have stood, a direct hit on the non-striker’s stumps that found Kallis within his ground, two fours four balls apart – languidly lapped and struck straight – by Prince off Harbhajan, another off the spinner by Kallis, technically driven to fine leg with the help of a radically altered stance, were the most important events of the rest of the first day’s play.
Kallis was 81 not out at stumps, just 24 of his runs having come in boundaries. And this from a man whose 17 sixes in 2011 was just one fewer than the number hit by De Villiers.
But it was that sort of day on that sort of pitch against that sort of opposition, and when South Africa resumed the next day on 232/4 Kallis was in the same sort of mood.
Prince rattled the status quo in the morning’s third over by driving Harbhajan through the covers for four twice in three balls, first off the front foot then the back.
Kallis did unfurl a sumptuous cover drive off Sharma the over after that, but once he reached 90 he faced 15 balls without adding to his score.
In that time, he saw Sreesanth use the second new ball to dismiss Prince and Mark Boucher with consecutive deliveries.
The previous ball had left Prince. The next one cut a wicked curve through the air and demanded a drive. Prince obliged, and the inswinger bowled him though the gate for 47. Boucher, ham-fisted and flat-footed and in the throes of poor form, could only edge to Dhoni.
South Africa had crashed from 262/4 to 262/6 in an eyeblink. Not that Kallis blinked. Instead, he drove Sreesanth through a clumsy Tendulkar at mid-on and smeared him imperiously through midwicket for boundaries to move to 99.
The look on Kallis’ face when he is one run shy of a century is the same as the look on his face when he is 99 runs away. It’s the same look as when he is at the top of his run or awaiting a bowler as he stands in the slips.
He wore this look when Dale Steyn did the sensible thing and stuck his bat between his throat and a vicious delivery from Khan. The catch was taken at gully and South Africa were 272/7. Kallis was still 99 not out.
Despite almost getting himself out twice in the five balls of the over that remained, Morne Morkel survived.
Sreesanth began the next over with a full delivery that hooked away from Kallis just as he offered at it: beaten, bowed, but not out.
Looking like he was late on his way to commit a crime, Sreesanth came storming in again. His effort strayed too far onto the pads and Kallis waited long enough to dab it demurely past square leg.
Newlands rose to salute the 39th Test century of the finest player of the age, bar bloody none. Off came his helmet. Out came his smile. Up went his arms. Away went any semblance of inhibition.
There is a school of thought that, in his pomp, Kallis was good enough to hit a six whenever he felt like it. He hit none during this innings, but after reaching his century he hit 10 fours – one of them edged – from 82 balls. Thus, of the 61 runs he scored after bringing up three figures, only 21 of them required something so inelegant as running to the other end of the pitch.
In doing so Kallis had to put up with a hip strain and with partners, Paul Harris and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who were entirely likely to do something that deserved a kick up the backside.
They duly did those things but not until Kallis had ensured South Africa squeezed 79 runs out of their last two wickets before he cut too thinly at Zaheer and was caught behind.
As an individual performance it was of the highest quality. As an intervention in a self-destructing innings it was vital. As an example of what Kallis does best it was even better than the undefeated 109 he would score in the second innings to secure the draw.
Ayn Rand would have understood as much about all that as Kallis would of her writing, but she should be proud that her philosophy was padded up and at the crease in Cape Town in January, 2011.