November 17, 2000

Majestic Kallis puts New Zealand to the sword

In 39 Test matches since making his debut against England back in 1995/96, Jacques Kallis has always been viewed as a player of prodigious talent capable of matching the best in the world. In his 40th Test match, the first in the Castle Lager/MTN series against New Zealand in Bloemfontein on Friday, he demonstrated that he now is one of the best in the world.

Kallis utterly dominated the first day's play, making an unbeaten 153 as South Africa stormed to 270 for three before bad light halted played 34 minutes before the scheduled close.

The South Africans have laid a platform for a massive first innings score, and perhaps the tone of the entire series, and Kallis was at the root of it all. He came to the crease for the third ball of the day, after Boeta Dippenaar had gone for a second ball duck on his home ground, caught at second slip off Shayne O'Connor, and played with imperious ease.

The outfield at Goodyear Park was heavy for Friday's first day, but you would not have know it from the way Kallis played, combining the great strength of his shoulders and upper body with exquisite timing to reach the boundary 25 times.

He came as close to perfection as South Africa could have wished and he showed, in this innings, that he now has the mental toughness to break an attack's heart. Since an uncertain start to his Test career, Kallis has based his technique around a solid defence and six centuries in his previous 39 games suggest that there was at least some merit in this approach.

But there had always been the sense that he still had another gear to shift into, that at times when he was at the crease he tended to drift along with the game. On Friday Kallis took an inexperienced New Zealand attack to the cleaners and it may now be difficult for the tourists to come back in this match, and in the series.

After Dippenaar's early departure there was some support for Kallis from the veterans Gary Kirsten and Daryll Cullinan, who both got themselves in and then got themselves out for 31 and 29 respectively, before Neil McKenzie came in for the fourth wicket.

McKenzie has played in Kallis' shadow in their unbroken 106-run partnership, but he gave solid support and produced some class of his own when he picked the same gap at extra cover to drive Craig McMillan for three successive fours in the over before the evening drinks break.

But it has been all Kallis and it is a terrible pity that he declined to talk to the media afterwards. Two generations of South African batsmen would have stood in queues to talk to the Press after making a Test 150.

Kallis was also involved in an unusual incident just after lunch when Daryll Cullinan drove O'Connor back down the wicket and the ball deflected off the bowler's arm onto the stumps. The naked eye suggested that Kallis was well short of his ground. Certainly, the New Zealand dressing room believed it.

But e tv, televising their first Test, could not call up the replays to give third umpire Rudi Koertzen a defenitive view. Kallis, then on 76, was allowed to bat on. Some 90 minutes later e tv managed to untangle their tape machine and find pictures that proved Kallis had, in fact, regained his ground, thereby vindicating Koertzen's decision.

It later emerged that in the interests of economy e tv had employed only two fixed cameras to film line decisions instead of the four that have been accepted practice in South Africa for several years. Inevitably, the video machine with the tape that could have resolved the matter instantly was the one that jammed. It is e tv's first go at a Test match, and they have learned the hard way that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong.

As, perhaps, have New Zealand. Their seam attack on the first day sprayed the ball on both sides of the wicket, seldom, if ever, putting Kallis and his partners under any sustained pressure. Daryl Tufey was particularly wayward and after a promising start, O'Connor felt the sharp edge of Kallis' bat.

The pick of the New Zealanders, in fact, was the young legspinner Brooke Walker, playing his first Test only because of injuries to Danny Vettori and Paul Wiseman. Walker has modelled his action on Shane Warne and he gets a fair bit of spin although he was punished whenever he dropped it short. He, though, bowls leg breaks and is very young, so he has an excuse. The other members of the attack simply bowled badly.