October 13, 2007

Kallis and Harris made all the difference

Jacques Kallis and Paul Harris made all the difference in South Africa's Test triumph in Pakistan



Three hundreds in four innings was a special return from Jacques Kallis, who didn't set any numerical targets for the series © AFP

Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's captain, chooses his words carefully at the best of times but when it comes to expressing himself in English, his Inzamam-esque economy with words works in his favour. Rarely could five seconds have summed up his team's demise more succinctly than those he used during his post-series press conference in Lahore on Friday.

"They bowled well, they batted well and the fielded well. That is why they won," said Malik. Indeed.

There is, of course, a little more analysis to be done. After back-to-back Man-of-the-match titles there really was only one contender for Man of the Series - Jacques Kallis, back with the national side after being overlooked for South Africa's squad for the ICC World Twenty20. Kallis is amongst the best ever and it was no surprise to see him live up to his reputation.

But the man second in the queue was a surprise - Paul Harris, the left arm spinner, four Tests old when he landed in Pakistan. Not only was he the leading wicket-taker in the series, but - crucially - he had the best average on either side.

When Bob Woolmer took over as coach of South Africa 11 years ago he addressed his charges' notorious problems against spin by perfecting options, notoriously the sweep shot and reverse-sweep. But far more significant was the mindset change he encouraged. Rather than being determined not to be dismissed by the twirly men, Woolmer encouraged the batsmen to accept that being dismissed by spinners in the subcontinent was "inevitable."

"Just make sure their wickets cost at least 30 each," he said. "So play shots against them because they'll get you out eventually and you'd rather have 50 than 10 by the time you're out."

Over a decade later the results of Woolmer's approach can be seen today. Detractors point to the fact that Danish Kaneria and rookie Addur Rehman took 21 of the 30 South African wickets to fall. But delve into the figures and you'll see how well South Africa did play them - Rehman's 11 wickets came at 32 and Kaneria's 10 at 42.

Compare that to Harris' 12 at an average of 20.66.

This may hurt as much as the series result itself, but Pakistan weren't just beaten - they were out-spun, by one man against two, on pitches prepared to favour spinners. And South Africa's lone spinner was playing his fifth and sixth Tests. As a child, Harris had aspirations of being a surfer and fast bowler.



Paul Harris, South Africa's sole spinner, had the best average on either side © AFP
Kallis might be an established legend, but there was also a significant change in his approach before this series. Previously, his goal-orientated drive had led him to set numerical targets before every series. Not this time.

"I did set myself targets but they weren't runs and wickets targets this time, I just said I wanted to contribute in a really big way towards South Africa winning the series," he said. "I've been here before and I know how tough it is to win, so it was vital that the players with experience of the subcontinent made their experience count and allowed the younger players to learn form that.

"So rather than setting myself runs and wickets targets I set myself an 'overall contribution' target; and the fact that I was able to meet that target was the most pleasing thing for me, personally. Right now the thrill is about winning this series - the best feeling is always winning games and series. Scoring hundreds and breaking records is also good but it comes a distant second."

Kallis is proud of what he's achieved during his career but as he himself put it, his success is largely because he hasn't worried about records and headlines. He says he's just going to continue doing that - with the aim being to win games and series - and for South Africa it's a good thing then that he's not thinking much about breaking records.

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