Australia in South Africa 2008-09 March 18, 2009

Heavy burden for captain Kallis

It's never very satisfying to be the second choice for a job but that's the position Jacques Kallis will find himself in when he captains South Africa in Thursday's third Test. He was handed the captaincy after Ashwell Prince turned it down and the extra responsibility will weigh heavily on Kallis, who already has the burden of being a key batsman, bowler and slip fielder.

And so it will be captaincy by committee for the South Africans, who will also lean heavily on the advice of the injured Graeme Smith, who has been taking a key role in their training sessions and will be in the dressing-room during the match. Kallis has captained South Africa only once before, in similar circumstances three years ago when Australia were 2-0 up in South Africa and Smith was injured for the final Test.

"I've always said that to be an allrounder and captain is probably the hardest job in the world," Kallis said. "That's why I don't think there are too many who do it. But I'm fortunate that I've got Bouchy [Mark Boucher] next to me, I've got Hashim Amla, guys that have played quite a few Tests now and that have captained before.

"I'm the type of captain that pretty much lets the team make the decisions. Obviously there are times when I've got to make a decision but I let the team captain and let guys get involved and run it like that. That certainly is the way I've done it in the past and the guys have enjoyed that."

The most interesting feature of the captaincy meetings will be the input of Prince. The vice-captain under Smith, Prince was upset at being overlooked at the start of this series having missed all three Tests in Australia with a broken thumb, and when he was thrust into the unfamiliar opening position for this match he declined to take the reins of the side.

"I think he had his reasons and his views why he didn't want it," Kallis said. "Obviously he was offered it first and he turned that down. Then they phoned me and said would I do it for the one Test match. Certainly there's no issue there. We've had a chat and there's no problems. The guys respect his point of view and respect the fact that I've taken over."

Kallis insisted that he was looking forward to the challenge but his opposite number Ricky Ponting sees Kallis as a reluctant leader. He said he could not understand why Prince would be hesitant to take on the captaincy upon his recall.

"You can understand the reason he was disgruntled in the first place I guess, being the vice-captain and being left out of the side," Ponting said. "But when opportunities come around like that I think any Australian would grab that with both hands."

The Australian captaincy rarely changes hands and when stand-ins are appointed they treat the job with reverence, as Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke have done when taking charge of limited-overs games. Ponting said South Africa's leadership dramas could play into Australia's hands.

"You'd probably think so, one of them not wanting to be captain and them having a reluctant captain at the moment," Ponting said. "I don't think Kallis is the sort of guy that would be jumping up and down to do the captaincy, knowing the sort of laid-back guy he is on the field.

"He's got enough on his plate anyway with being a top four batter and an allrounder. He's someone who bowls 20 overs an innings for them. We saw something similar when England came to Australia in 2006-07, [Andrew] Flintoff was captain. When you are an allrounder you already have a lot to think about so that won't make his job any easier."

South Africa are likely to hand debuts to Albie Morkel and Imraan Khan, while Australia have to decide whether to include the legspinner Bryce McGain for his first taste of Test cricket on a pitch that will turn. The Australians were given a four-day break after the Durban win, which secured the series, and Ponting said with such a young side it was important to make sure they would lift again to push for a clean sweep.

"I've been letting them know they can't take anything for granted in this game," Ponting said. "I've got to most of the young guys today and had a chat about putting last week behind us and moving on, starting from fresh with the scoreboard at 0-0 and remembering the things that made you successful over the last couple of weeks, it's important that we do all that."

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo