Cool Kallis is the standard-bearer as Proteas play for Boucher tribute

 

Jacques Kallis guided a ball from Tim Bresnan to third man for the boundary that brought his second Test century in England and, after raising his bat, the all-rounder pointed towards his eyes.

At that moment, Kallis seemed to be thinking not about his own achievement, or even about South Africa's chances of taking a 1-0 lead in the Test series. The gesture appeared to be a clear message to his best friend Mark Boucher, whose international career was sadly cut short by the serious eye injury he suffered during the build-up to this match.

Kallis is one of the most unflappable cricketers in the world but tackling a demanding tour without such a close comrade would test the strength of any mind. Kallis spent time with Boucher in hospital when he needed urgent attention after being struck in the eye by a bail during the tour match against Somerset earlier this month.

The following day, Kallis stayed with Boucher at the team hotel while the rest of the side prepared for play and when he discussed the wicketkeeper's upsetting retirement, Kallis said: "It's not about cricket any more. It's about a mate and hoping he recovers fully. It puts cricket and life into perspective."

The intensity of competition within professional team sport means that strong bonds are formed between colleagues, and this was the case for Boucher and Kallis. Kallis made his Test debut in December 1995, Boucher in October 1997, and they have shared many moments of elation and dejection for their country. Preparing for a major series without such a long-term ally cannot have been easy, for Kallis or the rest of the team.

It is to the great credit of South Africa that they have been able to perform so powerfully in this match. Boucher was a gloveman of high competence but he was also the heartbeat of the team and a vital lieutenant of captain Graeme Smith. Poor weather denied them important preparation time and at The Oval, the venue for the opening match of the Investec Series, the Proteas had not won a Test in 13 attempts.

If Boucher's feisty presence will be missed, at least the tourists have the coolness of Kallis to turn to. The work of Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla had put South Africa in a wonderful position yet Kallis's temperament remains the same whether his team are in comfort or peril.

Kallis was serene in moving to 82 on Saturday and it became clear once more on the fourth day that England could find nothing to fluster him. He and Amla batted steadily in the first hour of the day but accelerated in the second and by lunch, Kallis had added 53 to his overnight score.

While Kallis's style is understated, his size and near-flawless technique make him an extremely intimidating figure for opponents. He knows how to shatter a bowler's confidence, too, so when Stuart Broad prepared for his first over with the second new ball, Kallis decided to assert himself. Three full, wide deliveries were answered with three resounding cover-drives that crushed any hope England might have held of disturbing South Africa with the third new ball.

Kallis then hit the switch by lofting Graeme Swann over deep midwicket for six and when Amla, who had already made the highest individual score for South Africa in a Test, reached his triple-century, his partner's delight was evident. Kallis leapt off the ground and punched the air as he went to greet Amla, whom he allowed to enjoy his moment before offering a congratulatory embrace.

The day was not without blemish for Kallis, who got both hands to a Kevin Pietersen edge at second slip but could not hold on to the ball. Luckily for Kallis, Morne Morkel bowled the England batsman two overs later. Thanks to the superb efforts of their batsmen and the menace and diligence of their bowlers, South Africa will have eyes only for victory today.

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