Kallis strives to play in Ponting farewell
Unless something as dramatic as Jacques Kallis calling time on his career happens, the Perth Test will be largely about Ricky Ponting. Whether South Africa win a second consecutive series in Australia and keep their No. 1 Test ranking, or whether Michael Clarke's team wrests it from them, the cricket world will be captivated by Ponting's farewell.
The South African team was too. They arrived at the WACA ground when Ponting was making his announcement, and although they suspected it was going to happen, they were in some awe at being so close to it. "Shame," said AB de Villiers in typical South African fashion, while Graeme Smith showed genuine concern when he heard Michael Clarke almost broke down during his press conference.
Reporters held back from asking Smith about his record of being around when major opposition players retire but they managed to get some of his thoughts. "Initially it was a bit of a shock," Smith said, conveying a popular sentiment. "I played a lot against Ricky and he is certainly the most competitive man I think I have ever played against. The way he played the game, and the intensity he played the game in, is a credit to him. He has always represented Australia with a lot of dignity and a lot of skill."
Ponting's last chance to do that will be against South Africa in a match that will decide the No.1 ranking. Graeme Smith's team knows the power something like a retirement can have. They used the sudden departure of Mark Boucher, who was badly injured in England before his final Test series began, as added motivation on that tour earlier this year.
In victory, South Africa dedicated a large portion of their ascension to No.1 to Boucher. Now that they have the title, they do not want to give it up without a heck of a fight, and one of their most resilient fighters has been their longest serving soldier - Jacques Kallis.
Even during the 3.3 overs he bowled before limping off Adelaide Oval, Kallis' impact was significant: he dismissed Ed Cowan and Ponting. Kallis also batted through pain in both innings because his contribution was needed to save the match. His 58 and 46, innings that used up more than four hours, proved that his career is a long way from needing the same resuscitation. It would not have been surprising had Ponting watched that effort and wondered how a man who walked almost the same road as he did was able to continue walking so confidently.
Kallis made his Test debut the week after Ponting did in December 1995. He has played ten fewer Tests than Ponting, has 425 fewer runs but three hundreds more. While Ponting has one more opportunity to add to those numbers, Kallis should have several more. Like Ponting, Kallis said he would remain committed to playing international cricket for as long as his body allows and he can contribute. Unlike Ponting, it is Kallis' fitness rather his form that threatens his future.
For the third time in as many tours in 2012, Kallis is battling injury. His current hamstring strain could deny him his own last - a last Test in Australia. It's unlikely Kallis will return in 2016, when South Africa are due to tour next, and before this series he said he would treasure being successful for a second time in Australia.
Kallis has done everything he can to be able to play in Perth, even if only as a batsman, although he will have to field. "We don't intend on playing the game with ten men so we won't take the decision lightly," Smith said, confirming Kallis will bat at No. 4 if picked. "If he is not fit we will look to have someone playing his role in the game but ideally, if he is fit, we'd like to have him playing."
Kallis knows how important he is to the side and has spent hours with physiotherapist Brandon Jackson to try and recover. He has followed the requirements for rest and if he remains in any pain, he isn't showing it. He wants to play in Perth almost more than South Africa want him to. "Mentally we know that he is hungry to play and he has shown that in the way that he has gone about his rehab," Smith said. "He wants to get on the park and perform."
So does Ponting, but he thinks after Tuesday he no longer deserves to. That realisation alone brought tears to grown men's eyes. And then the air lightened a bit, as it does when these things happen. By the time the Australians had left, South Africa were training in sunshine with a strong wind blowing. In the second net was Kallis.
He moved with ease. He got forward to defend with the grace of a construction vehicle and the determination of a whole fleet. He walked without difficulty, he bent down, he got back up, he carried on. He was struck on the hand by a net bowler and casually wrung it out before continuing. He was in the zone.
When he finished, Kallis walked to a nearby bench, took his gloves off as though nothing had happened and packed his things. He looked around for a few minutes, he tussled his hair, he saw his team-mates chatting to some reporters and he passed by with smiles for all. In those eyes was the same look Kallis has worn throughout his career. The one that says, "I'm still here and I'm still going to be."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent