South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 1st day November 17, 2011

Kallis gets to 12,000 Test runs with unusual hurry

His whirlwind fifty saw him leapfrog Brian Lara on the list of Test cricket's leading run-scorers. Kallis now lies in fourth place, behind Ricky Ponting. It confirms his status as the all-time great South Africa batsman

Jacques Kallis seemed in a hurry from the moment he walked to the crease today. His first shot, a screaming cover drive, confirmed it. Thirty-six balls later, when he flicked Peter Siddle over fine leg for six, to move to one short of 12,000 runs, it seemed to explain why Kallis had been in a hurry.

His whirlwind half-century saw him leapfrog Brian Lara on the list of Test cricket's leading run-scorers. Kallis now lies in fourth place, 492 runs behind Ricky Ponting. It confirms Kallis' status as the all-time great South Africa batsman and will have statisticians conjuring up figures to prove it, but Kallis, himself, accepted the accolades without much frill.

"If you play as long as I have played, those milestones come along," he said at the end of a disappointing day for South Africa with the bat. "Maybe when I am finished with the game, I can look back and be more proud of it than I am now."

Kallis' average first peaked over 30 at the end of his 20th Test, in November 1998. He settled into Test cricket with centuries in Melbourne and Manchester and twin fifties against West Indies in Johannesburg. By 2002, Kallis had clocked up centuries against every team he had played against at that stage, except Sri Lanka. Two scores in excess of 150 in Zimbabwe helped loft his average to over 50.

The numbers make for impressive reading but it's the story they spin that is more compelling. Kallis' stability shows his consistency and that his average has not dropped below 50 is an indicator that Kallis has gone through very few, and very short, bad patches. And he has got better and better with age.

With consistency has come reliability and South Africa have learned to depend on Kallis. His first century at the MCG in 1997 saved his team from defeat. He still refers to that knock as one of his most special innings. Last summer, against India at Newlands, Kallis scored hundreds in both innings despite a side strain that threatened to split him in two. Sandwiched in between those two efforts have come other great knocks, like his 162 against England in Durban in tough conditions. It took him 142 Tests before he reached a double-hundred but when he did, it was a sublime, unbeaten 201 against India last year in Centurion.

He has earned a reputation for having a mindset as solid as his forward defensive. Bowlers simply cannot bother Kallis. Words bounce off his helmet the way runs flow from his bat. He can roll out the silky cover drive at will, pounce on the short ball too when in the mood to pull and simply stay at the crease for hours, moving the ball around and collecting runs as and when he pleases. Kallis' temperament, which ranges from patient to aggressive, is one of the key things that have made him the batsmen he is today.

"Jacques is like that, some days he can be very docile and other days, when he is really on song and he is in a bubble, everything goes well," former South Africa batsman Peter Kirsten told ESPNcricinfo. Kallis' uncharacteristic start was driven by the pain of pride, according to Kirsten. "I think he was hurt by his performance in the Newlands Test," he said. "He would have been stung by that performance and would have wanted to do better."

A fourth-ball duck, along with below-par bowling, meant that Kallis went almost unnoticed in the first match of the series. If what Kirsten said is true, and it seems to be, then Kallis is a man who will do everything he can to ensure he is not down and out for too long.

Kirsten also suggests that Kallis still has the desire to keep improving and does not see himself as the polished object, with faults still creeping in, like they did last week. "He would have worked on his technique after that, because he stuck in the crease a bit," Kirsten said. "He moved his feet nicely today and the way he played the spinner before lunch, which was almost uncharacteristic of him, showed the confidence he was in."

There was a stage of play today when it seemed like Kallis was telling the pitch how he would play on it and he seemed destined for a long stay. He brought up his 50, his milestone of 12,000 runs and got out in the same over. He was disappointed with the shot that he played, a lob to midwicket from an unbalanced position. "Unfortunately, there were a few too many events in that over," Kallis joked.

Overall, his was a mood, not of celebration, but of frustration, that he did not do more for the team, given the position he was in. "You don't often have days where everything seems to hit the middle," he said. "I was disappointed to get out the way I did and when I did."

Although AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince's century partnership put South Africa in a decent position, Kallis felt he should have played better and longer. That desire will likely ensure that Kallis continues to play until he thinks he cannot offer enough to the team. "I will carry on playing as long as I am enjoying what I am doing," he said. "But I understand that it's not a right to play for your country, it's a privilege."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent