For over 18 years, Jacques Kallis has been South Africa’s ultimate firefighter. On a muggy Saturday, Kallis donned that familiar role once again.
The Indian camp was brimming with joy and confidence once they winkled out Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla in the space of 10 runs to reduce the home side, overnight 82 for no loss, to 113 for three. The Proteas were still 221 runs behind India’s first innings total of 334.
The sight of Kallis walking down the stairs, perhaps, didn’t worry the Indians too much. After all the Cape Town man has been in poor form coming to this Test, never managing a hundred in the last 14 innings and recording an all-time low average of 16 in a calendar year.
Of course, there was also that emotional angle of him playing the last Test match of his career. But like he has done during his entire career, Kallis locked himself in a bubble, away from all those extraneous pressures, and notched up an unbeaten 78 to guide South Africa to 299 for five on the third day of the second Test after rain brought a slightly premature end to the play at 4.02 pm local time.
The chief protagonist was undoubtedly Kallis, who blunted the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja and the Indian pace troika with characteristic poise to bring South Africa close to the visitors’ total.
It was difficult to imagine that Kallis has been going through a lean patch in the past few months, especially after watching him bat at the Kingsmead on the day.
The pitch had a hint of variable bounce, and Jadeja on more the one occasion managed to kick up the ball off the surface.
But Kallis was equal to the task, bringing in years of experience to build a fort around South African innings. Indian pacers too looked ragged as Kallis imposed himself on the match in his inimitable style.
Unfortunately, they seemed to imbibe no lesson from the way Dale Steyn bowled on the second day of the match. There was no swing for Steyn either, but he bowled consistently at a high pace and kept altering his length from short and full, creating doubts in the Indian batsmen’s mind.
Ishant had pace, but he erred in his length often, making him an easy pick for the South African batsmen. Without reverse or conventional swing, both Zaheer Khan and Mohamamd Shami looked ineffective and also they didn’t have the outright pace to rattle the batsmen.
Kallis made use of those favourable elements to optimum effect, and at times the vintage Kallis came to the fore. Two cover drives in succession off Zaheer was a treat to the eyes – elegance, timing and power meeting each other cordially. However, he was not alone in his venture.
AB de Villiers, who made a superb 74, cashed in on the calm presence of Kallis at the other end. De Villiers, who scored a brilliant hundred in the Wanderers Test, seemed to carry that form here as well. Together, Kallis and De Villiers added 127 runs in 40.5 overs for the fourth wicket that seized the momentum from India in emphatic fashion.
De Villiers showed a lot of chutzpah during his stay, and a reverse sweep off Jadeja showed his class and innovative bend of mind. The Saurashtra man speared one at his middle stump, but De Villiers was already in position for the reverse sweep, executing it with minimum fuss.
Only once did the Indians manage to come close to snapping the alliance. De Villiers dabbed a ball from Zaheer to on-side, and Kallis responded to the gesture from his partner, making a dash to the other end. De Villiers had to scamper for a single, and only an inaccurate throw from Zaheer saved him. But a peach of a delivery from Jadeja ended the growing partnership. The ball pitched on the leg-stump and turned appreciably to take the outside edge of De Villiers bat, and Virat Kohli completed the job at slips with ease.
India managed to bag the wicket of Jean-Paul Duminy, who added 58 for the fifth wicket with Kallis, towards the fag of the day. But Kallis ensured that South Africa remained close on the heels of India.