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South Africa's tireless soldier

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Jacques_Kallis_South_Africa_cricketIt is a task to put together another garland of rich respect for a cricketer who isn't stranger to any, specially someone who has handsomely accumulated mighty respect for consolidating a fantastic career. And that too for nearly two decades of playing profoundly inspiring and profusely passionate cricket at the highest level.

There are some cricketers who move you in awe with the fleeting moment you so want to capture just seeing their blades flash and their bats move in hurried commotion. Picture Lara, Hayden and Ponting. Then there are the Tendulkar's, Richards' and Gavaskar's where you can't stop marveling at both their commanding body language and their magnanimous feats. You of course dwell in their statistical exuberance too.

But the likes of Jacques Kallis are distinct creatures, more like creaking termites that play the patient game whilst wrecking yours from within. You are alarmed the moment you hear their sound. You may well liken Kallis to an improbable force of nature that causes an upheaval even when it is in distant sight, one that takes you in its firm grip as it approaches close and instead of smashing you with brute force in a single decisive blow, wears you down with its draining force.

 

In a decade where there was hardly a shortage of greats- Sachin, Lara, Waugh, Ponting, Sangakkara and Dravid - Kallis stood firm- almost aloof and preferring to focus only on his job, ignorant of the respect he so mightily commanded. In Kallis' case you will not remember any sobriquets or monikers like "God of Cricket" or "The Prince" or something like "The Wall". Simply because the world didn't find it necessary to anoint one for there were those mind-boggling stats to focus on. And that is where Kallis’ unexplored and lesser noticed enigma lies.

In his case, you will remember the story, his effort, the drain, that enamoring craft and its determined application with which he punctuated cricket's obese record books with 13289 test runs and 292 test wickets. You will gaze at 11579 one day runs and those 273 scalps of this Cape Towner and wonder in deep admiration.

Seated silently somewhere, typically with that understated appeal of his, albeit amidst a pantheon of greats with an even bigger greatness 'tag' and amplified appeal- Sachin, Lara and Ponting- you will find enough reason to accord Kallis his true standing as an all time great. That he scalped over 550 wickets despite also scoring around 25000 runs from both formats, will compel you to hail Kallis differently. You won't hurry in adjudging him behind or ahead of a true icon of a great. The man and his numbers will demand more attention from you. And yet at all times, it would seem that the man himself cared less- for both records and praise.

For his test-adversaries- West Indies, England, Australia, who he grinded with obduracy, having scored in excess of 2000 runs against all and scoring over 1700 runs versus India, Kallis was loathed for his will-power and still admired for his versatility. He was brutal in dealing with his opponents, but grace -personified. Striking not with a firmness that is loud but with an equanimity conveyed by beautiful rhythm and consistency. Kallis was a bit of a sedate but cruel force. Sedate for the air of calm about him, and cruel because, you would soon see the fierce competitor in him wreck opponents with that burly frame of his.

Ditto for his ODI record. Those 11579 runs with 17 centuries came at the behest of marauding best bowling attacks including Warne, McGrath, Kumble, Ambrose, Younis and Walsh. And as his whirring blade came down rampantly to defend and evade, protect and score, operating in usual consistent fashion, it came to strike rich records against best cricketing nations- 1600 runs against Australia, 1500 versus India, 1600 against the Windies and over 1400 against New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

It is as if you couldn't be any more repulsed by the somewhat repetitive nature of cricket that had begun to being played, since mid 2000s, suddenly the likes of Kallis and Dravid with their subtle charms and magical powers of concentration presented you with the gratification you so needed from the gentleman's sport.

 

And yet, it is surprising to note that Jacques Kallis wasn't born great into cricket. For the first 5 tests, he managed 57 runs and all of 5 wickets. He was to show traces of his resolve and concentration finally in his maiden tour to Australia where the Proteas found themselves in a bit of a fix with 88 for 3 and still trailing the Aussies by 300 on the final tricky day. That was when Kallis came between a crumbling South Africa and their mighty hunters who never quite managed to tame down the Protea power. In a famous century stand with then captain Cronje, Kallis demonstrated the grit and composure that would become not just his customary standing in the test cricket to follow but the very synonyms with which his career would come to be regarded with sincerity.

Time after time, from 1998 onward, we would see Jacques rescue Proteas and become the bogey man who would rarely be tamed by bowlers, finally emerging as a giant; elusive because you wanted so much more of him than you got and at the same time bemoaned him and prayed for his downfall as a rival perturbed by his great determination. And yet, it is important to reinforce that to become the tireless soldier of South Africa that he ultimately became having first run initial miles as a hungry troop, it didn't come all that easy.

Kallis, the able-bodied 28 year old in 2003 had collected 155 test wickets with blaze and rabid pace. But what is intriguing is that the remainder of 147 wickets came without either of his former strengths and with a fledgling frame, so used to strains and aches. The pace certainly buoyed down but the fire didn't vanquish from within. By 2004, spending a decade on 22 yards, he had collected 6441 of his 13289 runs which means in the latter half of his career, he went on to score another 6848 despite bowling all those grinding overs, besieged often by injuries and fitness setbacks.   

It seemed at one point that nothing came between Kallis' resolve of defying South Africa's opponents, not even the constant workload that he happily shared alongside Pollock's, Donald's and Cullinan's and Cronje's in the first half and with the Steyn's, Morkel's and De Villiers' and Amla's in the latter. It is almost like the lines of flamboyance and versatility of South African cricket met at a common axis of elegance and quiet greatness, that of Kallis, who stood silent, unflustered by all happening around him in a monk-like fashion. And ever so determined to yield his hard-work toward a rich harvest for South Africa.

And it is for his cricketing dexterity, his practical immovability once set on the pitch and for being the warlord who responded with contained rage, that when extolled upon rivals, would implode with feverish pitch that we must salute Jacques Kallis. Not just as cricket's finest modern all rounder but as a luminary who never cared for the prized heights he attained.

 

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