England's worst nightmare might be that Jacques Kallis has yet to make a run worthy of the name. What that means is that if South Africa can go 1-0 up with their best batsman having made scores of 7, 13 and 4 they might be capable of somewhat more if he rediscovers his form.
Mickey Arthur, their estimable coach, was not about to disagree with this assessment. "In my wildest dreams I didn't think that Jacques would be the only one of the top six not to have made a Test hundred," he said at Worcester as Kallis waited his turn to get in and maul the hapless Bangladesh A attack.
"But he is not downbeat about it and in fact I have never seen him work harder. The day after the Headingley Test we had a session with him on his own, he trained on the optional day here at New Road and then we had our practice session here yesterday. He is fully aware of what he needs to do."
Kallis's urgent presence may also be needed in his capacity as an all-rounder. Dale Steyn, the tourists' strike-bowling man of the moment, has broken his left thumb and will definitely miss the Third Test at Edgbaston, and probably the Fourth at The Oval.
While Andre Nel will probably replace him – although Monde Zondeki will not be easily overlooked – and their pace strategy will not change, it is hardly ideal. Nel has greater belligerence than Steyn but has lesser pace, and Kallis's stock-bowling experience may be required more than ever. But it is still his batting that could have a decisive influence on events, using up precious time, keeping England at bay.
Kallis's Test record is exemplary among modern players. Of those still treading the boards only Mike Hussey (68.38) and Ricky Ponting (58.38) have a higher batting average than Kallis's 56.28. Among South Africans, only Graeme Pollock, whose batting was formed in a different mould, has a better statistical return at 60.97.
As it happens, Kallis has not had the best of times in England on his two previous tours, which itself may help to explain why South Africa have never done better than share the spoils, and have always been pegged back from 1-0 up.
But he has been the rock of South Africa for 10 years. He has had his lean runs, but the big runs have tended to come in a flood (a slow flood, given the measured, deliberate manner of his batting). In 2003-04 he had a run of five hundreds in eight innings, the other scores being 44, 73 and 92, and last year he scored five hundreds in seven innings.
Discernably stockier, and he was never exactly lean, he is 33 this year and this will probably be his penultimate tour of England. Arthur said: "Jacques knows his game inside out and he does not need too many people telling him about his batting. But we have discussed one minor technical issue which he is working hard on now. Coupled to that is the fact that he only needs to get a start. If he walks out in a Test match and gets to 20 I guarantee he'll go on and make a big score. He specialises in playing long innings and he's very, very hungry at the moment."
The other day, South Africa's batting averages for the series so far were read out in the dressing room. The top five are all averaging above 50, two of them above 100. Kallis resides in ninth place. In the corner he grabbed a bat, and the intent in the action was obvious.
South Africa might have prepared for the Third Test in Birmingham with something more arduous than a light workout against Bangladesh A. Arthur has stressed to his charges the need to keep their intensity levels high. They are haunted still by those previous tours.
"We feel we are playing good cricket, we have got intensity after Lord's and we're looking to raise the bar all the time. Don't forget at Lord's England were a battle-hardened team, whereas we had not played Test cricket for two months. But we are battle-hardened now and we've gotthat ruthlessness."
This will not lead to further unseemly behaviour between the sides. After some unsavoury kerfuffles at Headingley – heightened because there the teams are almost on top of each other in the dungeons that pass as changing rooms – Arthur and England's captain, Michael Vaughan, had a long chat. "We sorted it out," said Arthur. "We had got our wires crossed. We want tough, hard cricket but not the fights."
Still, the spats led to an Arthur quotation that will endure foras long as cricket is played.He referred to mother cricket and how she never slept andhow she had come to haunt Vaughan. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
The trick now is to ensure that South Africa do not wind down in Worcester. Arthur's job in these few days is less coach than motivator. The loss of Steyn is bound to impede their gallop and Arthur did not pretend that it was anything other than a huge blow. But the squad was picked precisely for this occurrence. Arthur wanted coverage in all areas.
If Nel plays, England can expect their ears to be battered in more ways than one. ButSouth Africa are unquestionably weaker, and they will know it.Reuse content