South Africa in New Zealand 2014-15 October 16, 2014

Replacing Kallis, the bowler

Faf du Plessis assuming Kallis' No. 3 slot was only one part of the equation solved. South Africa are scouting for someone who could balance attack and defence with ball in hand

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Every match is an indication for World Cup - Domingo

Had Jacques Kallis not retired from international cricket, he would have spent his 39th birthday enjoying a home-cooked meal with the likes of Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott and David Miller in the picturesque town of Mount Maunganui. Instead, Kallis was likely on a golf course somewhere and at least two of the trio mentioned may have spent their dinner contemplating how to replace him.

Although South Africa have already played and won two ODI series since Kallis called time, his absence is still a point of discussion, particularly as the World Cup looms. Despite his flagging form towards the end and talk about how everyone would have to merit their place, Kallis would have been a certain squad member had he continued playing. His value as a two-in-one cricketer was too important to do without, as South Africa have learnt since then. That's where Steyn and Abbott come in.

Faf du Plessis assuming Kallis' No. 3 slot was only one part of the equation solved, as head coach Russell Domingo readily admitted on the team's arrival in New Zealand. "We are still trying to find - particularly in the bowling side of things - someone who can match his particular skills," Domingo said.

Kallis brought dependability, and at times aggression to the attack. Although he may not stand out immediately as a wicket-taker, he is the second highest South African on the all-time list , behind Shaun Pollock. Until the end of his career, he remained a go-to man when a partnership needed breaking.

Now, Steyn has become that person and AB de Villiers has learnt to use him to suit the situation. Sometimes that means bowling Steyn sparingly upfront so he can be saved for later on, on other occasions - when early breakthroughs have been made - it means letting him puncture the opposition as much as possible.

But Kallis' responsibility was not just to attack, especially towards the end of his career. He was also used to contain or as a stop-gap option, when the captain needed some time to think of a strategy and did not want the game to slip away in the meantime. Having Kallis to push pause offered security and comfort partly because of his experience and partly his demeanor, but now who do South African turn to?

Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso have been miserly in recent times, and Tahir's economy rate of 4.25 in ODIs is particularly striking considering his contrasting Test form. Spin may not always enforce a strangle though and South Africa need a seamer who can also hold an end. Abbott could be the answer to that. In last season's domestic one-day competition, he conceded at 4.16 an over and was third-highest on the wicket-takers' list. Like Kallis, he can swing the ball, and although he is no top-order batsman, can hold his own. Fitting him into the XI is a different matter.

South Africa are still toying with their combinations, although it has not changed too drastically from the one that won the triangular series in Zimbabwe. Vernon Philander is the only addition and he would have played in that series had injury not ruled him out.

The consistency in South Africa's selection hints that their World Cup plans are almost completely in place and Domingo underlined that in New Zealand. "It was quite nice to have to not welcome any new players into the team. It's quite a settled team at the moment," he said. "We've played a good brand of one-day cricket over the last five or six months and we are pretty happy with where we are at the moment."

Pretty happy but not completely satisfied, because they are still looking for the person who can act as Kallis, the bowler and discover someone with his big-match temperament. This series and the next against Australia could be the perfect setting to unearth both.

"New Zealand are difficult to beat at home and we know it's going to be a tough series for us," Domingo said. Tougher because the first two matches are in Mount Maunganui, where South Africa, in fact where no Full Member, has ever played before? "We've all played in Auckland and Wellington so it's good to experience different conditions and it looks like a really nice town," Domingo replied. Even Kallis will toast to that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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