Experience bumps up Kallis' value
When Jacques Kallis' credentials are compared to those of other legends, they stand up in every way. He is fourth on the all-time run-scoring list and the only allrounder to have scored over 11,000 runs and taken more than 250 wickets. Statistically, Kallis is unmatched but the reason he shares his 'greatest' tag with the likes of Garry Sobers is not only because they played in different eras but because there is one thing Kallis has not done: captain.
In 17 years as an international cricketer, Kallis has officially led the team in 15 times, all in the latter third of his career. In 2006, Kallis captained in three ODIs against Zimbabwe and the next year, he was the designated leader in a tri-series involving India and Ireland.
Test captaincy has been even more rare. He took on the role in two matches against Australia in 2009 and would not have done so if not for extreme circumstances - Graeme Smith was ruled out with a broken hand and Ashwell Prince refused to lead the team because he was being made to open the batting instead of play in the middle-order, which was his preference. Kallis was the emergency replacement and has never been approached to do the job in any form since.
As a result, he is perceived as reluctant to be in charge and someone who prefers to focus on his own game. While that may have been true for the Kallis who ate up balls in the 2007 World Cup against Australia when he should have been pushing the run-rate, it does not reflect the Kallis of today. "He has reached the point where he is adding good value to the team environment," Gary Kirsten, South Africa's coach, said.
Kallis' ability to influence team direction is not overt. He is hardly ever seen assisting in field placings or chatting to bowlers before they run up, and those who have batted with him have revealed that he is a man of few words in the middle. What he brings is experience few cricketers on the world stage can match.
Consider that on Friday Kallis will become one of only three players - Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar being the other two - to have played at 50 Test venues, and you will understand the vastness of his cricketing acumen. By sharing that, Kallis leads in his own way.
"It's an important thing to do for guys who have been to places like England or Australia - you have knowledge that you pass on to guys who haven't been here," Kallis said. "It's about being a captain of your own environment, because it grows you as a person and a cricketer. I've never been one that likes to compare players or eras, especially with the amount of cricket we play. It's an honour to be compared with those guys, but I just love playing and I love winning and I want to contribute as much as I can contribute to winning matches."
Occasionally, Kallis will dip into some of that wall of wisdom in front of the media and recently he has been doing it with increasing frequency. He launched an attack on DRS in New Zealand and showed prudent sensitivity during Mark Boucher's forced retirement in England.
In Australia, Kallis took the opportunity to express the need for longer Test series. "It would be nice to have more Tests against Australia. I thought the two-Test series we had last year was crazy," he said. "It's about scheduling but we need to find a way for series between top teams to turn into four or five-match series."
The reality is that this series is comprised of only three Tests but it could have the intensity of a longer contest as South Africa are involved in their fourth battle for No. 1 since 2010. This time South Africa are the title-holders and their opposition the challengers.
Kallis knows all too well the feeling of being the latter and thinks South Africa's experience of being nearly-men for so long will be an advantage, even though it could be seen as the opposite. "It does feel slightly different coming to Australia as No. 1 because you come with that at the back of your mind," he said. "But we also come with knowing how hard we had to work to get that success and I don't see any reason why we can't get ourselves into positions to win."
Another of the obvious ticks in South Africa's column is the presence of Kallis himself, whether or not he is contributing in a leadership role. With no allrounder in the Australia XI, Kallis' ability to be, as Kirsten said, "two players in one who would make any team in the world whether as a bowler or a batsmen", could prove a telling divide between the two teams.
It's that, rather than considering whether Kallis is providing inside information that Ricky Ponting said Australia will focus on. For that reason, Australia will treat Kallis as their "No. 1 opponent" for the next week. "He has had a lot of success with bat and ball and we've got to find ways of breaking him down," Ponting said.
Kallis took the warning as a "compliment" but issued one of his own back, in rather captain-like style: "We've got 11 guys in our side who are match-winners. The guys are hungry to do well here and we've set ourselves high standards."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent