Johannesburg – As he gets older, the statistics that matter to Jacques Kallis aren’t cricket related.
Reel off those numbers that illustrate what a great career he’s had and in response you’ll get a smile, a shrug of the shoulders and a look that says “let’s move on to something else”.
The statistics which matter to Kallis are; 29 – the number of boys who have either been through or are currently on bursaries thanks to the Jacques Kallis Scholarship Foundation; 4 – the number of schools which host the boys; R65 000 per year – the amount it takes to get each pupil through school. In 2006 when he started the Foundation, Kallis put R550 000 of his own money into the project. Since then he’s raised money through golf days and other fund-raising events.
Unlike his cricket statistics, Kallis knows in intimate detail the numbers that matter to the Foundation, because as cricket winds down, those are the kind of issues that matter to him more and more.
That’s not to say cricket’s no longer important. Far from it: if cricket didn’t matter anymore would he have made 944 Test runs last year at an average of 67.42 with four centuries or take 11 wickets at 28.27 and 18 catches in nine matches? No.
But his career is closer to the end than it is the beginning and looking beyond the boundary, outside the dressing-room matters a little bit more now than it did 10 years ago. The Foundation is increasingly playing a bigger part in his life.
“It’s been incredible. It’s been running for six years. We’ve had one guy just signed up for the Dolphins, another for the Cobras and another has just been to Stellenbosch and got his degree. That has given me so much pleasure,” he says.
“You learn the older you get and suddenly realise there are more things to life than worrying about what happens in a game of cricket. You see it with these young guys; for them to go to a school they’d possibly never have had the opportunity to go to, it’s changed their lives.”
Kallis hasn’t put a fixed date on when his career will end. The 2015 World Cup is his major target and the continuation of his Test career may be tied up in that too. “I’ll try and go for another two years (in Tests) and see how the body holds out.
“I haven’t given any indication about when I’ll call it a day, I’m still enjoying it. I’m the type of person who will keep going until I don’t feel like I’m enjoying it anymore. To set a date, whether you’re doing well or badly, I don’t think is the right way to go about it. I won’t do that. When I wake up one day and feel like ‘Oooh, I don’t feel like this’, that’s when I’ll know it’s time.”
The Wanderers Test against Pakistan will be the 161st of his distinguished career, but like those cricket statistics, he doesn’t have a number in mind on which he’d like to end. “I definitely don’t think that way. Some people are saying I might retire when I get 300 Test wickets, but if I’m on 299 wickets and I wake up and I don’t feel like it, then I’ll call it a day. Stats don’t mean that much to me.
“It will take a bit of time, it won’t come over-night, you’ll get the feeling slowly and then wake up and know the time is right. Hopefully that time is still a long way off.”
Kallis has rarely enjoyed playing the game as much as he is right now.
“You wake up in the morning, keen to practice and play not only because the team is winning, but because of the environment that’s been created and the players we’ve got. It’s exciting times, the guys can go out and express themselves.”
Alongside that success, as the most senior player in the squad, Kallis wants to create a culture that is unique to the national team, that others aspire to be a part of and which they will pass on to new generations. “It’s an environment where guys are given the freedom to do what they want. But there is a mark, and no one oversteps that mark, which is an incredible culture to have because everyone has respect for each other.
“There’s a trust that’s been developed that the guys know, the guy next to you has put in the work and that’s what’s made this team so close. That’s not something that you get overnight; that comes over a long period. When I joined the Proteas, I said that when I leave, I want to leave it in a better state and that is about passing on the culture from generation to generation.”
Graeme Smith has been an important part of that culture. The landmark of 100 Tests as captain has given his teammates time for reflection, and for Kallis in particular, who has stood next to Smith at slip and shared the dressing-room for longer than any other of the current players, it’s even more special.
Does he think the players, media and the South African public take Smith for granted? “I think we do. He took over when he was young so he was an easy figure to criticise. A lot of people didn’t like him and that has stayed with him unfortunately.
“I don’t think he gets given the credit that he deserves. We as South Africans, with most of our sportsmen, we don’t give them the praise they deserve until they’re finished and then it’s too late. I think that’ll be the case with Graeme. The contribution he makes not just from the runs, and the stuff he does on the field, but off it too, behind the scenes, is massive. He’ll be a massive loss once he finishes, which is hopefully in a few years, not now.”
Smith’s shoes will be hard to fill, as will Kallis’ but the 37-year-old doesn’t believe that the expansion into new formats and an ever increasing schedule should put young players off wanting to be an all-rounder.
“It’s hard work. I grew up doing it. I knew nothing else, other than to do it like that. If a guy grows up from a young age doing it, then mentally you’re used to doing it. I would definitely encourage it, it’s vital for a team to have an all-rounder or two. It provides balance to a side. Even if you’re just producing 10 to 12 overs in a day, it makes a massive difference. There’s a big demand for all-rounders especially in the one-day and T20 formats. “
As his career winds down, Kallis points to JP Duminy as a future all-rounder – “he has a lot of potential as an all-rounder”.
Kallis has had to tone down on the amount of cricket he’s played recently as he sets his sights on the World Cup and extending his career. That’s left a lot of time for his main pastime, golf. “My favourite sport,” he quips.
It’s something of a standing joke among teammates about the amount of time Kallis spends on golf courses wherever the side travels. With time off recently, he’s teed up at some exclusive local courses; Erinvale, Pearl Valley and Fancourt.
“I find it a great way to get away and relax. I spent some time at a house in Fancourt, just to get away from cricket, to refresh the mind. I just enjoy it; a bit of time off. I’ve gotten onto some nice courses – including my own club Westlake, as well as Steenberg, Pearl Valley, all three Fancourt courses. The other nice thing is I got to play with some pros as well, Richard Sterne and Grant Veenstra. You pick up a lot of tips. It’s interesting to see how they go about their business and the way they react under pressure. It’s incredible to see the ball striking from a guy like Richard. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win another tournament soon.” (Sterne currently leads the Dubai Desert Classic by one shot).
Kallis plays off a seven handicap and would like to be a scratch golfer soon. There’s just one problem: “Cricket gets in the way of the golf,” he says.
“So I don’t get to spend enough time practising on the driving range ...”