IPL results pushed Kallis' claim
When Jacques Kallis opens the batting for South Africa at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka this September, he will feature in his 14th ICC tournament. Having already played in five World Cups, six Champions Trophies and two World Twenty20s, he is as much as veteran of the multi-team competition as one could hope to find and, considering that he was recalled specifically for this event, one of the most valuable.
Kallis has not played T20 cricket for South Africa since being dropped after the 2010 competition in West Indies - when South Africa did the usual and bowed out before they could get close to winning. He featured in a one-off spectacular against India in March this year, which was played two days after he and the rest of the squad returned from a three Test series in New Zealand in his honour and was rained off.
It was a format considered to have passed him by. Him of the stoic forward defensive and the put-the-crowd-to-sleep-but-get-the-job-done kind of batting style. Him who admitted to thinking it was more of a hit and giggle than a serious way to play the game. Him who had to do some serious rethinking of his approach to succeed in changing times and who did it and succeeded above many, many others.
Kallis began to change the way he played the shortest format after a debut IPL season where he failed to light up the stage in any capacity. He was bought for US$ 900,000 by Royal Challengers Bangalore, which made him their costliest overseas player but did not live up to the price tag. He scored just 199 runs in 11 matches at an average of 18.09 and took four wickets for 311 runs in the tournament.
Whether it was that the amount of money he was being paid that jolted him into action or his own intense dislike for underperformance we can only speculate at, but Kallis held intense sessions with RCB coach Ray Jennings before the next year's event and the improvement was drastic. In numerical terms, his average improved to 27.76 with the bat but in attitude terms, he was almost a completely different player as he made the adjustments needed for a different style of cricket.
As the IPL editions have crept steadily on, and will soon outnumber the editions of Harry Potter books, Kallis' statistics have improved. Last year, he was the top scorer for Kolkata Knight Riders and featured more prominently with the ball. This year, he was their second highest run-getter and wicket-taker and opened in both disciplines. He was also part of a squad that won - something that is a rarity for South African cricketers in competition outside their own domestic structure, who have become used to a constant culture of bubbling under.
So overwhelming have Kallis' performances been in the IPL that he has forced his way back into national selection plans in T20 cricket, even though there previously was a drive to go forward with youth in that format. South Africa made obvious attempts to blood a younger, fresher 20-over side. Graeme Smith was dropped and Richard Levi installed in his place, Dale Steyn does not play much 20-over cricket at international level so players like Marchant de Lange and Wayne Parnell could get experience on the highest stage.
Kallis' omission came even before those two, perhaps because he was the oldest. His recall has displaced players younger than him and players who have more experience in international T20 cricket than he does. It now seems likely it will also displace the vice-captain, Hashim Amla, who previously opened the batting with Levi. Convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson confirmed that Kallis will bat at the top of the order and mentioned Levi and Faf du Plessis as his possible partners. Amla could bat lower down, especially since Colin Ingram was left out.
It is a selection Hudson believes will give South Africa their best chance of winning an ICC trophy - Kallis is the only surviving member of the previous squad that did that in the ICC Knockout in 1998 - and will give Kallis a chance of earning some coveted silverware. "I think he's desperate to register that one win," Hudson said. "He plays a vital part in terms of opening the batting and his bowling, and just being a wise head in this format. I think there will be a massive effort from Jacques and hopefully his success leads to further success."
Although Kallis has indicated he will keep playing until the 2015 World Cup to have another chance to lay his hands on a trophy there, he has been left out of many of South Africa's recent ODI series. He did not play in all of the January matches against Sri Lanka and he has been rested from upcoming five-match rubber against England as part of his fitness being managed, particularly so he can continue to play Test cricket.
Smith has not been afforded the same luxury. The former limited-overs captain gave up leadership of the T20 side in August 2010 and played a handful of matches under Johan Botha but has since been sidelined in that format. Botha, who will be released from his CSA contract after the World T20 to captain South Australia, is in the squad and considered vital to South Africa's chances, according to Hudson.
The T20 format has been a playground for South Africa to experiment in recent times, such as the unofficial T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe, which also featured Bangladesh. Rookies such as seamer Chris Morris and wicket-keeper Dane Vilas were given a chance as were those who have always been close to the outside like Ingram.
That none of those players are included in the final squad points to the reality: that South Africa have gone back to the players they have relied on in the past instead of invest in those they have earmarked for the future. In the case of Kallis it is as far back as South Africa can go but Hudson and his panel believe it is the only way to go forward.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent