The world's leading all-rounder has warned that the breed faces extinction unless the amount of international cricket is reduced. Jacques Kallis, the only current Test player to be rated in the top 20 as both a batsman and bowler, could hardly have timed his entreaty more tellingly. Almost as he spoke, his closest rival, England's Andrew Flintoff, was being advised not to resume bowling due to an ankle injury, which was caused by bowling in the first place. Next day, yesterday, he was told he could bowl and was press-ganged back into the attack in an attempt to dislodge the West Indians. The confusion spoke volumes of the importance of England's all-rounder to the side.
Kallis could hardly have been plainer. "It's hard work doing both, especially with the amount of cricket being played these days," he said. "I think the number of true all-rounders is going to get less and less simply because of that. You're going to get guys that will bat well and bowl a little bit or bowl well and bat a little bit. It's tough."
Kallis should know what he is talking about. Since he first appeared for South Africa in 1995, he has played 78 Tests and 196 one-day internationals and has sustained an all-round career to rank with the legends. His batting last winter was prodigious as he scored centuries in five consecutive Tests, but his bowling has suffered slightly. As if to exemplify his own fears, he has fallen almost 20 places in the PwC one-day ratings in a year.
"It's terrific to see guys like Andrew Flintoff not only doing both disciplines but succeeding at them," he said. "There's no doubt we must try to find room for all-rounders. They will diminish if we don't cut back, and to see them disappear would be very sad. There have been some fantastic all-rounders throughout history and we've got to keep producing and looking after them."
Perversely, Kallis is ready to assume his previous stature after a break of three months. Then the treadmill starts rolling again. Next week, South Africa go to Sri Lanka for a month before arriving in London for the ICC Champions Trophy.
"This is the longest break I've had since I started playing," he said. "This is important, because it gives your little niggles a chance to recover and the mind a chance to relax a little. To have this long is unbelievable these days, and I really do think we have to find some way to cut back a little. I think then there will be better-quality cricket played as well.
"People's perception on this is wrong. As players, we'd probably lose money because of less match fees and bonuses, but we'd be prepared to sacrifice it to get the quality up, make sure the game stays fresh, and limit the number of injuries."
Kallis will be 29 in October and there could still be more, much more, to come if a combination of promoters, authorities and selectors heed his plea. Only Garry Sobers and Ian Botham have had higher ratings as all-rounders in the ratings.
Kallis's feats last year were the more extraordinary because he played in the shadow of the illness and subsequent death of his father, Henry. He heard of his father's cancer during the World Cup but still came to England for the early part of South Africa's tour. When his father's condition worsened, he returned home and missed the first two Test matches. His performances around that time were courageous because the whole world knew of his grief.
"When it got to the stage that he was desperately ill, I had to be with him," Kallis said. "I wanted to spend the last few weeks with him, which is exactly what I did, thanking him in a way for all he did and to be there for him just as he was always there for me.
"I learned a lot during the last year. It's made me grow up as a person, and realise that cricket isn't the most important thing in the world. I was much more relaxed about cricket afterwards. He played a huge role in my life, I learned a lot from the old boy, and hopefully I can put into practice what he taught me."
If his batting figures of last winter are a yardstick, that is precisely what Kallis did. He scored a hundred in all four Tests against West Indies in South Africa, then another in the First Test against New Zealand in Hamilton, and had reached 71 in the second game when Craig McMillan's dibbly-dobblies won a leg-before verdict. His fast-medium bowling was less potent, though Kallis pointed out that he was hardly the only bowler suffering. Bowlers generally were taking a pounding, he suggested, because bowlers were having to run in every week.
If any of this makes Kallis sound as if his subscription for the cricket whingers' club is due, it would be giving quite the wrong impression. He is merely being realistic; he still embraces the game. Part of his charm as a cricketer is that, for all his talents, he is a straightforward player. Nor does he ever shirk: since he was first picked he has played 78 of South Africa's 91 Tests, including 60 in succession, and 196 of their 236 one-dayers.
He sounds distinctly up for the winter ahead, especially the Champions Trophy, which brings international cricket to England throughout September. Too much cricket or not - and the Champions Trophy frequently cops flak - Kallis said the players recognise it as second in significance only to the World Cup. The point is that all the countries compete.
"It takes on a new importance because of what happened to us in our World Cup at home," he said, referring to South Africa's emotional elimination at the first stage. "We're a better Test team than one-day side at the moment, but this will help us to gauge where we are. Win it and we start off in the perfect way for the next World Cup."
To win it, one fancies, South Africa will need Kallis bowling and batting at the fullest pelt.Reuse content