Cape Town - It feels like Jacques Kallis has used up our emotions in relation to his retirement. We all expected it was coming, much like the rain in the Cape winter. But when the first retirement press release was sent out, that sudden announcement last Christmas Day, it knocked the stuffing out of the best of turkeys.
To never see Kallis again in Test whites took a while to digest, even with the strongest of homemade ginger beer, and even more so when he left us with the sweetest of centuries in that final Test against India.
Kingsmead though is not his home and Durban not his people. Newlands in Cape Town has always been King Kallis’s castle. He may flash his blade in coliseums all over the globe, hurl down his spearing deliveries in different T20 guises for big-money franchises, and knocked heads with the powers-that-be here from time to time, but the grand old ground under the caring eye of Table Mountain was always Kallis’s theatre of dreams.
And Cricket South Africa thought so too, kicking off their New Year three-day Festival of Cricket with a T20 tribute match in his honour featuring the Proteas against the Springboks. Newlands saw its biggest crowd of the summer, with the people of Cape Town streaming through the gates to bid farewell to their favourite son.
Kallis’s contribution to South Africa, and not just the sport of cricket, was visibly on display that balmy Friday evening as World Cup winning legends like Victor Matfield applauded him all the way off the ground.
But just when life started going back to normal without him, he kept coming back in different forms of the game. Almost like an ex playing with your emotions after a heavy breakup, he made fleeting appearances, even at Newlands again nogal.
Everything that had reduced grown men to tears over his 18-year long career was still there. The side-on stance with the MCC-textbook manual back-lift (no flashy Hashim Amla-like wield of the willow pointing to fine-leg here), the strong front shoulder pointing straight down the pitch, the little back-foot step (honed during hours of balls delivered to him by his schoolboy coach Keith Richardson) before the full transfer of his body weight on to the front foot with the bat following through smoothly to send another ball effortlessly to the cover boundary.
The World Cup flame was still burning strong, and who could begrudge Kallis that one final chance to push for the golden gong that modern-day greats such as Tendulkar, Ponting, Muralitharan and even yesteryear’s heroes like Imran, Kapil and Sir Viv can all proudly display on their mantelpieces.
However, on the recent tour to Sri Lanka, it was clear that the flame was starting to dim. Unfairly termed a “robot” during his career for his methodical approach, the systems that had served him so well and for so long seemed to be malfunctioning. A Kallis trademark was always his ability to judge the length of a delivery earlier than most, thereby giving him the time to select the required shot.
No longer. At the Premadasa, he misread an Ajantha Mendis carrom ball to be struck plumb in front for a duck second ball. In Kandy, a sharp bouncer from Lasith Malinga tested his reflexes, but he only managed to edge his hook shot behind to Kumar Sangakkara. And in what will now be his last international innings, in the jungles of Hambantota of all places, he failed to bring his bat down on a Rangana Herath slider in time.
Technically, Kallis could probably have worked on his game to get himself ready for next year’s World Cup, but his words on Wednesday put everything into perspective “I just knew on that tour that I was done.”
He will continue to flirt with us in the various domestic T20 carnivals, and there will be those who thought he could have carried on for one more Test series against Australia earlier this year, just like there will be those who wished he hung on until next year’s World Cup.
But after 519 international matches that spanned just short of two decades he knows the time is right to go.