Kallis, aging but still agile
Long before Jacques Kallis' frame had widened to its current dimensions, Navjot Sidhu was calling him Yak Kallis. It was an honest bit of mispronunciation, as well as an unintentional act of nominative determinism. It bestowed - if you believe in that sort of thing - imposing girth upon a man who already possessed the yak-like traits of forbearance, inscrutability and, at the crease, immovability.
On Wednesday evening, spectators on the grass banks on the western side of the Sheikh Zayed Stadium winced when Kallis fell over while trying to play a cute little scoop over his shoulder. They expected him to flatten the stumps, not realising from their square-on vantage that he had walked all the way across the crease. Kallis quickly got back on his feet. Plain old quick, without the garnish of 'for a big man'. At that point, he was batting on 71 off 44 balls.
Later in the night, he would show further evidence of the athleticism that still resides in his heavyset, 38-year-old body with a low, diving catch at deep midwicket to end Rohit Sharma's innings and Mumbai's hopes of winning.
"That catch he took tonight - possibly there weren't too many people on the field who would take that catch," John Wright, Mumbai's coach, said after the game. "He had a great game - pity it happened with us."
In the three-and-a-half months since his retirement from Test cricket, Kallis had played only two matches of any description. One of them was a festival game against the Springboks rugby side. The other was the final of South Africa's domestic T20 tournament; he took four wickets in that game. It was too small a sample size from which to draw any sort of inference.
Kallis, though, wants to continue playing 50-over cricket for South Africa till next year's World Cup, and a lot of people will infer a lot of things from what he does in this T20 league. He made as good a first impression as he could have hoped to, in the opening match of the tournament between Kolkata and Mumbai.
He took a while to get going, although that was more a result of how little of the strike he had. Having been in from the start of Kolkata's innings, Kallis was on 8 off 9 balls at the start of the eighth over. Gautam Gambhir had made an eight-ball duck and Manish Pandey was batting on 26 off 25. Whenever Kallis had got on strike, he had got off it in a jiffy, usually courtesy a dab to third man.
Over the following few overs, Kallis' timing looked a little off against the spinners, whom he tried to sweep and dab either side of the pitch with mixed results. In the 13th over, instinct kicked in, and Kallis connected sweetly with a pull off a short ball from Lasith Malinga that rose sharply off a pitch that offered just enough bounce to keep batsmen on their guard.
That shot seemed to turn on some sort of switch in Kallis, and his movements at the crease began looking surer. After he had been gifted a life by Malinga at short fine leg, Kallis went after Pragyan Ojha, clouting him over cover for four before hitting two typically muscular sixes.
Having been on 35 off 32 balls after the dropped catch, Kallis went on to score 37 off his next 15. It was precisely the sort of performance that Kolkata would have hoped he was still capable of when they used a right-to-match card to buy him back at the pre-season auction.
"We know that if Jacques stays there for a few overs, he will give us the platform we need for players like Yusuf [Pathan] and Robin [Uthappa] and Shakib [Al Hasan], and that's what Jacques did," Kolkata captain Gambhir said. "The good thing was that he did well and capitalised even at the end. It wasn't just about batting till the 15th over. He was aggressive as well. His job is that if I get out early, he has to bat till the 15th over. Pretty happy with the way he batted. He was very solid. So hopefully he can continue throughout the tournament."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo