Round the World

Clear mind, clear focus, no distractions: how Kallis does it

Neil Manthorp looks at the reasons for Jacques Kallis's phenomenal run of success

Neil Manthorp

March 16, 2004

Text size: A | A

A centurion at Centurion: Jacques Kallis celebrates the fourth of his his hundreds in consecutive Tests © Getty Images

Is there a secret to Jacques Kallis and his current run of form? Is there a magic ingredient? The answer is mostly "no", although there is just one part of his life that qualifies for a "yes". And that part is, well, his life.

Cricket is a strange enough game without over-analysing its smallest parts, so analogies and similes are useful for most of us. Staying within sport, any golfer will understand how difficult it is to hit the ball without being relaxed. And that's just the first shot. Keen golfers will no doubt have experienced the sensation of playing a game when all was not well in day-to-day life. Suddenly a difficult game becomes impossible.

Outside of sport, businessmen have the same problems. It can be difficult to close a deal, make a sale or design a building when you think your children might not be seeing enough of you, or mixing with the wrong crowd, or you're sleeping with your secretary.

Distractions are the bane of our lives, but it's not easy to rid ourselves of them. Sometimes the very act of looking into the mirror of our lives is the hardest thing of all.

But when Henry Kallis finally succumbed to cancer in the middle of June last year, Jacques was facing the biggest distraction he had ever known: the loss of his father. If he could deal with that, he could deal with anything.

Kallis confronted the loneliness of bereavement and chose to face all the other, much smaller problems in his life. Who he was as a public figure, what he wanted to be and how he was perceived. And what he wanted from his private life.

He sought the professional advice of an old friend, Paddy Upton, the former South African team fitness coach. Upton has reinvented himself and now boasts a PhD in sports psychology, and practises in something he calls "executive coaching".

If that all sounds like pretentious mumbo-jumbo, then it probably is. Put more simply, Kallis examined his approach to life, his relationships with friends, colleagues and the general public, and made sure he was being honest, sincere and fair. Having done that, he reasoned, he couldn't blame himself if things went wrong or if he was resented - by anyone.

It is an ongoing process, but having started it, Kallis finally found the game of cricket as simple as it really is. The bowler delivers the ball and you (a) stop it hitting your stumps, and (b) try to hit it. Clear mind, clear focus, no distractions. Simple.

When Kallis spoke to the media in Hamilton a few days ago, after his fifth century in as many Tests, there were a few grumbles that he "hadn't said much". But against the background of the process he had decided to put himself through, he said everything: "I'm just going about my business and thoroughly enjoying my cricket. It's an honour to be ranked amongst the greats of the game. You have to back yourself, because nobody else will - that's something I've taught myself over the years."

The death of his father, the end of a long-term relationship, and the battle of trying to set up a new home while never actually being in his home town are just a few of the issues, the distractions, which Jacques Kallis has confronted. The new, open, embracing, fearless Kallis has stopped putting issues to one side to be dealt with later.

Consequently, when he goes out to bat these days, he really does just see a bowler and a cricket ball. And fielders, of course, although they have been of little consequence lately. So has he changed much in his cricket? No. Has he changed much else? Not really, just his approach to life, that's all.

Neil Manthorp is a partner in South Africa's MWP Sport agency.

RSS Feeds: Neil Manthorp

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print
Neil ManthorpClose
Neil Manthorp Neil Manthorp is a writer and broadcaster based in Cape Town where he started the independent sports news agency MWP Media in 1992. He has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to international cricket and Zimbabwe's elevation to Test status. A regular commentator for SABC radio, Neil has also joined the host radio teams in West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and England - where he preferred Test Match Special's pork pies to their chocolate cake. He recently completed Gary Kirsten's biography.

'Smith revelled in captaincy'

Modern Masters: Graeme Smith gave you the impression that he's not going to back down, whatever the contest

    How we misunderstand risk in sport

Ed Smith: Success, failure, innovation - they are all about our willingness to take risks and how we judge them

    No repeats

ESPNcricinfo XI: From Sheffield to Jalandhar, grounds that have hosted only one Test

    England's selection errors could lead to series defeat

Ian Chappell: Persisting with Cook as captain, and picking batsmen with limited techniques, will hurt them

Have England lost their new-found identity?

Hassan Cheema: Cook and his boys seem to have fallen out of touch with the relentlessness that took them to No. 1

News | Features Last 7 days

Ridiculed Ishant ridicules England

Ishant Sharma has often been the butt of jokes, and sometimes deservedly so. Today, however, the joke was on England

Vijay rediscovers the old Monk

The leave outside off stump has been critical to M Vijay's success since his India comeback last year. Contrary to popular opinion, such patience and self-denial comes naturally to him

England seem to have forgotten about personality

They have to see a glass that is half-full, and play the game as if it is just that, a game; and an opportunity

Bhuvneshwar on course for super series

Only 15 times in Test history has a player achieved the double of 300 runs and 20 wickets in a Test series. Going on current form, Bhuvneshwar could well be the 16th

Ishant's fourth-innings heroics in rare company

In India's win at Lord's, Ishant Sharma took the best bowling figures by an Indian in the fourth innings of a Test outside Asia. Here are five other best bowling efforts by Indians in the fourth innings of Tests outside Asia

News | Features Last 7 days
Sponsored Links

Why not you? Read and learn how!