Top Performer-Jacques Kallis October 3, 2007

Back in the fold, back with a bang

Jacques Kallis has put his exclusion from the Twenty20 side behind him to return more determined than ever. By Neil Manthorp
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Kallis: watch out 200 © AFP

When Jacques Henry Kallis pushed the single into the covers that brought him his 25th Test century he strutted down to the non-striker's end in businesslike fashion and then stopped. There was to be no leaping in the air, no kissing of anything.

Perhaps 10 seconds passed before he removed his helmet and raised his bat to the dressing room. Then he looked in the general direction of the world, held two fingers to the badge on his shirt and gently tapped it. It might have been a two-fingered gesture of another sort.

Kallis may be starting the 2007-08 season with more fire in his belly than ever before. Not that he needs to prove himself to anybody, least of all to himself, but the fact that his worth or commitment to the national cause has been questioned this winter caused more than a ripple of disquiet in his usually calm, uncluttered demeanour. It made him angry; and Kallis doesn't normally "do" angry.

He was omitted from South Africa's Twenty20 squad because, said those who had urged him to play cautiously for the last decade, he scored too slowly. Despite appearances to the contrary, Kallis has longed to break free from the shackles of responsibility but, mostly, there has been too much resting on his wicket in both Test cricket and one-day internationals.

The Twenty20 format gave him the perfect vehicle to prove why he is, in fact, South Africa's leading six-hitter in both Tests and ODIs. Or it would have done had the squad containing him not been vetoed.

If he wasn't wanted by his country after 12 years of loyal service during which he was more often than not the side's leading batsman, he reasoned, he would "consider his options." He has routinely had lucrative county offers for years and then, of course, there was the Indian Cricket League, which was virtually prepared to courier a blank cheque and pen to Cape Town.

Some of his countrymen perceived his outburst and subsequent resignation of the vice-captaincy as petulant but it was not. Kallis admitted it was "emotional" but strongly denied the suggestion that he was not committed to his country. "I thought it might have been South Africa that was no longer committed to me," he said afterwards.

Before the selection controversy Kallis, 31, had enjoyed his longest break from cricket since he turned 18. He spent much of the time in the gym, running in the foothills of Table Mountain, and also indulging his passion for golf. But as the new season approached he was raring to go - and the Twenty20 was to be the perfect way to start it. Thankfully for South Africa, he was able to turn that disappointment into even more determination.

Though he is careful not to make an issue of it, his only personal goal for the season is to score his first Test double century. During his 155 at Karachi he surpassed Alec Stewart's total of 8463 runs, the previous highest aggregate without a 200. It bothers him, all right, and has done for some time. But at least this innings will remind him, if he needed reminding, that the double will surely come.

"It's been an interesting winter, to say the least," he said in Karachi, "but at least I know where I stand now and it has been sorted out. I've put it all behind me and I'm looking forward to a lot more good cricket - especially if I can have a few more days like the last two!"

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency