Kallis the latest free spirit to answer South Africa's call

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The Independent Online

There has always been an almost frightening intensity about South Africa's cricket. This intensity goes back to well before the days of Kepler Wessels and Hansie Cronje's humourless yet efficient brand of captaincy, and while it has not always produced winning results, it does make them a difficult side to beat.

Some individual players have, by their style, appeared to go beyond this intensity and reached freedom and enjoyment. Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and Jacques Kallis, the batsmen; Colin Bland and Jonty Rhodes, the fielders; and, going much further back, Jock Cameron, Jimmy Sinclair and Tuppy Owen-Smith, all batsmen, are examples, as was the leg-spinning all-rounder Aubrey Faulkner before the First World War.

It would be nice to think too, that their Greek-born leg-break and googly bowler from the Thirties, Xenophon Balaskas, was another, to say nothing of "Buster" Nupen, a tall medium-paced off-spinner who had only one eye and was born a Norwegian. But down the years South African sides have tended to produce functional performers rather than high-flying entertainers.

When the circumstances are dire, the South Africans usually come up with someone who can rise to the occasion. Kallis was a case in point on the third day of this Fourth Test. Monde Zondeki had broken down on Friday after bowling only 11 balls, while Dewald Pretorius was all over the place. Their attack was, as a result, severely stretched.

At least one of their other three seam bowlers - Makhaya Ntini, Andrew Hall or Kallis - needed to step up. So far this year, at the World Cup and on this England tour, where he missed the first two Tests due to his father's illness and subsequent death, the bowling of Kallis had lacked its former pace and authority.

He now gave South Africa the perfect start to the third day when he ran in down the Kirkstall Lane End hill and pitched the first ball just short of a length on off-stump. From there it bounced and left the right-handed Ed Smith, who was drawn into the stroke and edged a catch to Mark Boucher. Being the first ball of the day, Smith had to play at it, for he did not yet know if it would be a swinging morning.

For the next eight overs Kallis bowled magnificently, beating the bat enough to warrant three or four more wickets. As it was, five of the eight overs in his spell were maidens, and he took one wicket for three runs. It was just what South Africa needed, and his example was important for Andrew Hall, who bowled well, but without luck, from the other end.

One of the fascinations of Headingley Tests is the variety of cricket they produce. On Friday evening, before Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher unbelievably accepted the umpires' offer of bad light and came off, the South African attack was run ragged. When the batsmen returned, their concentration broken, Kallis removed them both and proceeded with teeth-gritting intensity to bring South Africa back into the game.