Kallis: A true champion

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December 14, 1995 seems an age ago. Graeme Smith had just completed his Grade 8 year at King Edward V11 High School while there was an 11-year-old starting to make a name for himself at Warmbad Primary School by the name of AB de Villiers.

But on literally and figuratively a much bigger field a 20-year-old from Western Province was making his cricket Test debut for the Proteas at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead.

The youngster got off the mark with a single off the left arm spin of England’s Richard Illingworth but fell soon afterwards to a catch behind the wicket off seamer Peter Martin. There was to be no second chance as both the fourth and fifth days’ play were washed out.

He was omitted — the only time he was ever to be dropped – from the next Test at Axxess St George’s, but was back for the final Test of the series at Sahara Park Newlands where again his contribution was an insignificant seven runs in the first innings as the Proteas clinched the series with a 10-wicket triumph.

But the selectors had clearly seen a lot more in Jacques Kallis than was evident from his initial international foray. It was not surprising. Coach Duncan Fletcher had brought him into the Western Province team as No 6 batsman with the intention of moving him up the order as his career flourished. His start was impressive that he quickly moved him up to the all-important No 3 position in the same season.

Two months before he made his Test match debut he toured Australia with Western Province and made 186 not out against a Queensland attack that was spearheaded by Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz. Had Eric Simons not declared he would assuredly have made that maiden double century that was to elude him for so many seasons a great deal earlier.

He was not available for the away Test series in India but it tells everything the selectors thought of him when he was plunged straight into the No 3 spot for his third Test against the all-conquering Australians.

He learned very quickly. Test No 6 saw him make his first half-century in Pakistan and Test No 7 his maiden century, again against Australia, at the intimidating MCG in front of the normal intimidating Australian crowd.

It was a special innings by any standards. He batted for all of six hours to save the match for his side. It wasn’t just a defining moment that a special player had arrived on the Test match scene; it was also a defining moment in telling the Master Sledgers that this was one player they
could not unsettle either technically or tactically.

It was at that stage only the second century to be scored against Shane Warne in the fourth innings of a Test match (the previous instance was by Javed Miandad when Pakistan won a cliff-hanger by one wicket at Lahore).

Now Kallis comes to Sahara Park Newlands for the 150th Test match of his career — 149 for the Proteas and 1 for the ICC World XI).

He is the sixth player to reach this landmark and the first from a country other than India or Australia.

Remarkably 50 players have made their debuts for the Proteas in Test match cricket since Kallis became part of the team.

During his time only Sachin Tendulkar has scored more Test centuries and he has also achieved bowling and catching statistics that have matched and surpassed even the great Sir Garfield Sobers.