Jacques of all trades a true master of one

Kallis' wondrous batting now ranks him with the greats.
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The Independent Online

How long ago it seems since that dipping full-toss careered into Jacques Kallis's off stump at Port Elizabeth before he had scored a run in this series. Twenty-three days, six innings and 452 runs back, that's how long. How England must crave that they could have bottled the delivery from Stephen Harmison and uncorked it at will.

Dipping full-tosses, preferably travelling at above 90mph and delivered from great height, seem one of the few ways in which Kallis can currently be troubled. His eminence as a candidate for run-outs has also been seriously mentioned but that, too, is merely symptomatic of the straws at which England are beginning to clutch. What do they do: keep encouraging him to take risky singles by some sophisticated strategy of misfielding?

If it was mentioned that Kallis could be knocked off his stride only by the excessive politeness of opposition team members ("Morning, Jacques, nice bat, pleasure to see you in such good order, half-volley or a long-hop suit?"), England would probably hire the head of etiquette from a Swiss finishing school for their backroom staff.

Kallis is in a run of form bordering on the sensational at the moment, and he has changed the course - and possibly the outcome - of the series. His innings of 167 in the Second Test at Durban on a pitch that was initially dodgy was a masterpiece, and at Newlands, where he made 149 and 65, he has now scored more Test runs than anybody.

For close on 10 years he has been the world's most prolific all-rounder, a player who could be mentioned in the same breath as Garry Sobers without provoking derision in the next. But as his bowling has receded, if not unravelled, his batting has advanced to an astonishing level. The ability to concentrate has been enhanced by advice from an exercise specialist. Look at Kallis bat and you can see the bubble he wraps round himself.

In 26 Test innings since the tour of England in 2003, which coincided with his father's death, he has scored eight hundreds and eight fifties for an average approaching 90. His form in one-day cricket has been scarcely less formidable: three hundreds and nine fifties from 23 innings. The wickets, meanwhile, have not quite dried up, but at the rate of one a match he will now take some time to go from 167 to the next landmark of 200.

Kallis has issued warnings about the burn-out factor among all-rounders and said: "The number of all-rounders in world cricket as we know them is bound to reduce. We might have batsmen who bowl a bit and the other way round, but the proper all-rounder is under threat."

In making that assessment, Kallis seems to have been preparing the way for a deli-berate reduction in his own bowling responsibilities. He has made it clear that he is no longer exactly snatching opportunities to bowl, aware of what it could do to the length of his career.

As a fielder he is breathtaking, as could be seen in the remarkable slip catch he took one-handed and lower than low to his right off Geraint Jones as England tried to save the match.

He is a handsomely appointed batsman who is more strictly orthodox than a Greek minister, and has based his game on the elimination of error. There are two mild, whispered criticisms about his batting that merge into one. They concern the pace at which he bats and the fact that he might not automatically be inclined to selflessness.

These seem risible points when the fellow has just won back-to-back man-of-the- match awards and dragged his side back into the rubber. But there is just the hint that self-protection is fairly close to his heart. (And why not, when you are not only the best batsman in your side but also the best in the world?) He can be an erratic judge of a run, partly because he does not want to be the one taking the fall. He was run out in the second innings in Cape Town, but not before he had run out somebody else.

Kallis rejects the charge of being one-paced, of being unable to step up a gear. "I don't really worry about what people say as long as we get results. How I play depends on the situation of the game. You have to decide which shots to play and which not. If the team require me to be dull I will be dull, and if they require me to be aggressive I will be aggressive." Dull, and it is actually not that, is working just fine at present.

Kallis has given back South Africa their self-belief, and the probability is that if England do not find some way of getting him out they will lose. Harmison was in no doubt about Kallis's prowess after South Africa's victory.

"I've not had anyone in the last 12 months who has left as well as him, and his innings in Durban was probably the best anyone has played against me," he said. "Credit has to go to Kallis. Sometimes you are beaten by a better player, and he has played two innings that have taken the match away from us. You just take your hat off and say, 'Well played'."

But Harmison will also remember the first over of the second day at Cape Town, when he bowled with electrifying pace and accuracy and put Kallis on his backside. He would probably be willing to avoid a repeat of cap-doffing in Johannesburg.