Cape Town – Ali Bacher knows a thing or two about cricket. And if we are talking about South African cricket in particular, he is a bit more knowledgeable than most.
That tends to happen when you spend the majority of your adulthood captaining your country, being its chief administrator, organising a World Cup and now in your twilight years, researching and writing about the greats that have played this lovely game of ours.
So, when Bacher says “this country (South Africa) has produced more great all-rounders than any other Test-playing nation. Most other teams only had one great all-rounder at a time, but South Africa had many,” at the recent launch of Jacques Kallis and 12 other Great South African All-Rounders, he speaks from a position of great authority.
And in his book, which he has co-authored with David Williams, Bacher highlights the magnificence of South African greats such as Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Brian McMillan, Tony Greig, Clive Rice, Mike Procter, Basil D’Oliveira, Tiger Lance, Eddie Barlow, Trevor Goddard, Aubrey Faulkner and Jimmy Sinclair – along with Kallis, of course.
After closer introspection, the book provides further evidence of South Africa’s wealth of all-round talent, with Bacher pressing his point further. “There were two periods when South Africa had four all-rounders in the same team. I captained Barlow, Lance, Proctor and Goddard. And then if you look at the team Hansie Cronjé led, they had Kallis, Pollock, Klusener and McMillan.”
The only one remaining of the “Awesome Foursome” of the late 1990s is the colossal figure of Kallis. At 38 years of age though, and after the rigours of 508 international matches (162 Tests, 321 ODIs, 25 T20Is) across an 18-year international career, it is clear that the Proteas need to start preparing for life after “one of the greatest cricketers of all time”, according to the legendary Steve Waugh.
Kallis has recently spent a lengthy period away from the game, where he recharged his long-life battery by doing things completely away from the game – like checking into his alma mater, Wynberg Boys High School, on some Saturday mornings to watch a bit of schoolboy “rugga” and also enjoying one of his favourite pastimes – hitting a long ball on the green fairways along the coast.
But it hasn’t all been play and no work, with Kallis looking leaner and trimmer than ever before after some intense fitness sessions at the gym with his Test skipper Graeme Smith and their private conditioning coach. It certainly seems to have refreshed Kallis, as he seems hungrier than ever to extend his Test career and fulfil that lifelong ambition of playing in the 2015 World Cup for a final time.
While this shows that Kallis’s flame is not out just yet, the burning question remains: who is going to fulfil the much-needed dual role going forward, especially in the Proteas Test team? Kallis’s recent injury woes – he has missed at least one Test in the last five series South Africa have played – has already given the Proteas brainstrust some insight to the problems they are going to face, often having to make two changes to ensure the balance of the team remains intact.
AB de Villiers’s decision to continue behind the stumps has eased the transition period; while Vernon Philander’s recent fulfilment of his batting potential with some delightful cameos is an encouraging sign. Surprisingly though, Kallis makes no mention of either of them as a possible successor, instead looking towards little JP Duminy to take over from his broad shoulders.
“I definitely think JP can be a fully-fledged all-rounder in the Test side,” Kallis told the Cape Times recently. “He certainly has the potential and talent to succeed. He is a top batter and bowls more than useful off-spin. If he really works on his bowling, and puts the effort in, he can easily bowl 10-15 overs a day that is required from a top-class all-rounder. I really think JP can do it.”
Duminy has performed this role in the Proteas one-day side for some time now, although a serious Achilles injury hampered his progress last season. The upcoming tour to the United Arab Emirates where South Africa are set to face Pakistan is almost the re-birth of Duminy, and perhaps we will see the little left-hander develop his all-round skills further under the guidance of new coach Russell Domingo.
Kallis was quick to point out, though, that Duminy faces different challenges to when he started playing, which could influence his growth, or sustained success over a period of time. “Let’s understand something ... it’s hard to be an all-rounder in the current climate of international cricket. Playing all three formats (Tests, ODIs, T20Is) at the highest level is tough, and especially if you want to excel in both disciplines while keeping your fielding also at a good standard.
“But like I’ve always said, I’ve always enjoyed both my batting and bowling, and being able to consistently improve one or the other area has always been one of the challenges I looked forward to as a cricketer.”
So, listening to Kallis, when Bacher and Williams sit down to refresh their book in the coming years, they may have to add a certain Jean-Paul Duminy in the next edition.
Rank Player Team Points
1 Jacques Kallis (South Africa) 374
2 Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh) 355
3 Ravi Ashwin (India) 321
4 Vernon Philander (South Africa) 312
5 Stuart Broad (England) 288
6 Graeme Swann (England) 280
7 Daniel Vettori (New Zealand) 257
8 Shane Watson (Australia) 247
9 Darren Sammy (West Indies) 227
10 Peter Siddle (Australia) 208