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Ryan McLaren has been called up as cover for Jacques Kallis. The replacement is no where near the quality of the incumbent and South Africa's supply of allrounders seems to have dried up
November 27, 2012
Ryan McLaren and the powder blue Volkswagen Beetle made in Mexico City in 2003 would appear to have nothing in common, but they do. Both are the last of their type to roll off the production line.
At least we knew the Beetle's end was nigh, but the abrupt halt of South Africa's supply of seam-bowling allrounders is surprising. Gone are the days when Brian McMillan could have been replaced by Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall or Justin Kemp. The typically burly, bustling, big-hitter who could also bang it at brisk pace is now a thing of the '90s. With Jacques Kallis' body serving as a continuous reminder, South Africa need them to get back into fashion fast.
Kallis has been injured on every away tour in 2012. In New Zealand, he woke up with a stiff neck on the morning of the Wellington Test and missed it, forcing South Africa to make a double change. In England, Kallis' back seized up overnight and he was immobile for the fourth day of the Headingley Test. Now in Australia, he injured his hamstring for the first time in his career; he couldn't bowl and had to bat at No. 9 and No. 7 in the Adelaide Test.
Kallis' ailments are caused by wear and tear, of the same kind that convinced the Beetle manufacturer to make only the new model for the last nine years. The time to trade-in Kallis is not here yet but his injuries should serve as a warning for South Africa to scour the market, especially as the only person they could all as an emergency replacement was picked purely because he can do both jobs - bat and bowl - and not because of how well he does them.
To suggest Kallis and McLaren are interchangeable is to say the Morris Miner had the same cool as the Beetle. Not quite. The real problem is that there wasn't a Mini or Mustang in sight and no one is revving an engine on the horizon.
Peter Kirsten, a former South Africa Test opener, cannot see that changing because of current trends in world cricket. "The specialist tag endorsed by coaches and selection committees due to overload of Twenty20 and ODI cricket requires players to concentrate more on one particular craft or format," he told ESPNcricinfo. "For example you will find guys who focus on slower deliveries, blockhole or death bowling in shorter formats and then have to adapt suddenly to the great demands of Test-match bowling."
Making the adjustment has already proved a problem for a few of the younger crop of quicks, who go from steaming in at full pace for four overs in Twenty20 to needing a more sustained effort over many spells in a Test. Injuries have abounded as a result. Now add to that the demands of batting, which could stretch to hours in a Test as it did for Kallis in Adelaide, and it's clear why trying to be good at both could be difficult to manage.
"The prerequisite for a pace-bowling allrounder is physical fitness," Kirsten said. But with the constantly increasing match and travel time, there is not much time left over to concentrate on the finer aspects of conditioning and even less time to rest.
The alternative is to be "managed," as Kallis is, which is how Kirsten thinks the allrounder has prolonged his career thus far. "Kallis has proved that the allrounders' workload can be sustained for a period of time if fitness levels are effectively maintained and managed," he said.
That is just a kinder way of telling players they will have to make choices about how often they play and how many series and tournaments they want to take part in. The uncomfortable truth is that it simply isn't the done thing.
With opportunities to make money the world over, few players want to miss out on maximising the years they will have as a professional athlete, so they may be willing to compromise in other areas.
Sometimes one discipline is favoured over the other unintentionally and that seems to be what has happened in South Africa. Although an extreme case, Morne Morkel once talked about becoming a lower-order allrounder of sorts but seems to have abandoned that plan.
Wayne Parnell was a genuine allrounder at under-19 level but was brought into the national side as a bowler. At some point, he hoped to complement his bowling with batting but injuries and inconsistency led to him being dropped. Ironically, he now seems to be having more success with bat for Warriors. Both Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt are handy with the bat but have much to work on as bowlers - to begin with, not overstepping - that the time they can spend honing batting will be limited.
Albie Morkel is one of the few to have polished skills in both disciplines. He has not lived up to his reputation though. In Twenty20 cricket, he has been successful for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, where the coach Stephen Fleming said Morkel was more secure in his role. At international level, however, he has been erratic. Morkel plays very few first-class matches and has only one Test to his name.
So McLaren was the only drop of water in a barren landscape and he may also have been the last drop. Spinning allrounders are starting to emerge but South Africa seem to have placed a premium on the additional option being pace. Over the years, the presence of Kallis has perhaps led them to take for granted that they would always have an extra seamer in the team.
In 2012, however, Kallis has shown that sometimes he cannot be that other bowler and there will come a time when he will not be there at all. When that happens, Kirsten hopes someone will have emerged as a successor. "Hopefully instinct, desire, understanding of the demands of the allrounders' role and limited 'over coaching', can ignite the South African conveyor belt," Kirsten said. "Kallis cannot operate forever and the value of his ilk is surely evident to any aspiring youngster."
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