South Africa v England, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day December 16, 2009

Kallis confirms his indomitability

Plenty of airtime and column inches have been used up in recent weeks to discuss the fitness of Jacques Kallis. On the evidence of his first innings of the series it's a wonder what all the fuss was about

Cracked rib, what cracked rib? Plenty of airtime and column inches have been used up in recent weeks to discuss the fitness of Jacques Kallis. On the evidence of his first innings of the series it's a wonder what all the fuss was about. And, to think, there was even some suggestion that Kallis wouldn't play if he couldn't bowl.

Never mind his allrounder status. The man is a run-machine who has dominated this decade as well as the end of the previous one. Clearly, Kallis's 258 Test wickets are a valuable commodity, but more than 10,000 runs in 132 Tests means he shouldn't really have too much trouble holding his own as a batsman.

Admittedly the balance of South Africa's line-up is not perfect without his all-round duties, but without doubt England would have been delighted to face either Alviro Petersen or Ryan McLaren instead of Kallis - which is what would have happened if Kallis had sat out purely because he couldn't bowl. Ironically, it was South Africa's seemingly less serious injury worry, Dale Steyn, who ended up on the sidelines when he succumbed to a tight hamstring during their pre-match warm-ups.

"Everyone can see how calm he is and it rubs off on everyone else in the team," said Ashwell Prince, who battled the tough early stages to produce an important 45. "In the lead-up everyone was wondering whether he'd be fit, and the management wanted to give him as much time as possible, understanding what he means to the team."

Andrew Strauss was very prescient on Tuesday when he said Kallis will be even more determined to succeed with just a solitary string to his bow. He certainly didn't need reminding of Kallis's potential to make his attack toil. Fourteen years into his career he remains the key wicket - although Graeme Smith's duck was certainly an important early scalp - and that no doubt played a part in Strauss shelving his early caution over the review system when James Anderson had a loud lbw appeal turned down. It was always unlikely to be overturned, and it was a decision based on Kallis's reputation rather than cool-headed common sense.

Any batsman, no matter their greatness, is vulnerable early on and England were excitable when Kallis edged his first delivery, from Graham Onions, through the slips to third man. With the very best of players, however, that window of opportunity doesn't last for longer than a few overs, and Kallis was soon settling into his day's graft. You wouldn't have guessed that he hadn't played an innings since November 15, or that this was his first first-class knock since March - when he made 102 against Australia at Newlands.

The signal that Kallis was 'in' came from his 42nd delivery, when he drove Stuart Broad imperiously through the covers and finished with a flourishing followthrough. Then, in the next over, he unleashed a calculated assault against Graeme Swann, who had made an instant impression by removing Ashwell Prince second-ball.

Kallis drilled him over long on for six then slog-swept another boundary through midwicket. Swann, never one to back down, held his own but Kallis had made his point. His only real alarms came when he spliced a pull wide of the limping Onions at mid-on, and then, momentarily, when he top-edged the hook that brought him three figures.

"He's a class player," Swann said. "He's got 32 hundreds - guys like that are always difficult to get out. We've had a couple of hard chances, a couple that have gone up in the air, and we didn't manage to get underneath. On another day, they might have gone straight to the fielders."

Some might argue that Kallis owed South Africa a few runs against England, and the man himself would be one of them. During the 2008 series he made a below-par contribution of 104 from seven innings. It didn't hurt South Africa, however, who secured an historic 2-1 victory, and if anything his failure highlighted the depth of their batting. His mere presence allows liberties to be taken with the balance of the side, and as if to prove his enduring worth, he chipped in with ten vital wickets at 29.50.

But Kallis won't lose sleep about his inability to bowl in this game. Batting is all that matters to him, and when it became clear that the pitch wasn't as green as its grassy tufts were suggesting, there was never any question as to who would make England pay for bowling first. Rather than look at Kallis's numbers from 2008, the 2004-05 series gives a better idea of his modus operandi - back then, he racked up 625 runs with three centuries. Yet in that series South Africa lost. This time he'll want to marry both successes together, and the first part of his mission couldn't have started any better. Just imagine if he was fully fit.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo