Durban – Jacques Kallis was never one for displays of emotion or grand speeches. Instead, he preferred to move quietly, even serenely, through an 18-year Test career that established him as arguably the greatest all-rounder of cricket's modern era.
His expressions were mostly concealed by his helmet while batting or by his sunglasses and trademark wide-brimmed sun hat when South Africa was fielding. On the occasions when he scored one of his 44 Test centuries or took one of his nearly-300 wickets before announcing his retirement earlier this week, he would flash his toothy grin in acknowledgement or raise an arm up in celebration.
In interviews, the broad-shouldered allrounder who could dominate bowlers with seemingly effortless cover drives and bounce out the best batsmen with fierce, heavy short balls was surprisingly soft-spoken.
For much of his career, Kallis was strangely never adored in South Africa the way Sachin Tendulkar was in India or Don Bradman was in Australia. And yet his worth to his country's Test team over his career has been just as valuable, perhaps more.
South Africa will miss him now.
It was Kallis' introspective approach that probably didn't always win over the supporters, but his teammates and opponents rated his value as a player and a person as priceless. And his achievements spoke volumes.
He scored match-winning hundreds and took partnership-breaking wickets in abundance, and buckets of Test catches as one of the most dependable slip fielders in the game.
Only Tendulkar has made more Test centuries. And when it came to batting allrounders, no one could touch Kallis for his additional contribution with the ball. His batting average is better than the “Little Master” Tendulkar and his bowling average on a par with front-line quicks such as England's James Anderson and India's Zaheer Khan.
Kallis will retire from Test cricket after South Africa's second Test against India, which started on Thursday at Durban, and his country will soon doubtless realise how rare a cricketer he was.
“Although we all knew the retirement of a great player like Jacques Kallis was going to happen, his decision still comes as a blow when the reality dawns,” Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat said.
South Africa coach Russell Domingo paid tribute, more than anything, to Kallis' influence in the dressing room, revealing a lesser-known side to a player who was sometimes criticised, unfairly, for playing slowly and selfishly.
“Jacques' calmness, maturity and presence in the change room will sorely be missed and hopefully he will still be able to play a role in this team's success in the near future,” Domingo said.
For a player who rarely was animated on the field, Kallis' influence on those around him was immense, and he seemingly didn't need many words to exercise it. When he did speak, it was often in a manner that was understated, incisive and, crucially, valuable.
Former South Africa captain Shaun Pollock recently told a story about a Kallis comment in the dressing room after South Africa had conceded a then world-record 434 runs to Australia in a limited-overs international at Johannesburg's famously high-scoring Wanderers ground.
As the South Africans trudged into the dressing room desperately downcast, Kallis said: “Right, the bowlers have done their job, they're 10 runs short,” Pollock recalled. The mood was instantly lightened, Pollock said, and South Africa won the game by scoring a new-record 438 in what is widely considered the best ODI game ever.
Kallis' teammates paid glowing tribute on social media following his retirement announcement, praising him as the best cricketer ever, South Africa's best sportsman and a “legend” of the game.
Batsman Faf du Plessis wrote: “What an honour sharing a changeroom with the greatest cricketer of all time.” Captain Graeme Smith even expressed his brotherly “love” for Kallis.
In typical fashion, Kallis didn't immediately post any messages about his retirement, happy instead to let his wondrous achievements - and others - do most of the talking.
There was one comment from Kallis in the statement announcing his upcoming retirement after his 166th Test that stood out, though: “I feel that I have made my contribution in this format.”
In his own way, that summed it up perfectly. – Sapa-AP