South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 3rd day December 18, 2010

New feather in Kallis' cap

After Jacques Kallis got his first Test double-century, the argument that he is the greatest ever South Africa batsman has grown stronger

After he had stood with his arms in the air for what seemed like hours, his helmet in one hand, the breeze gently brushing his new crop of hair, Jacques Kallis returned to the crease and played a booming, mock drive, almost as though he was teeing off on the golfing greens. Perhaps that's the shot he wanted to use to get his first Test double-hundred. Perhaps it didn't matter; all that did was that he had finally got there.

When Kallis reached 197, the monkey on his back was as large as Lisa the gorilla at the Johannesburg zoo. His eyes were darting about like fireflies. He realised he was one stroke away from a landmark that had eluded him so far. He played a solid forward defensive, typical of the mental picture most get when they think of Kallis. Then he was given two balls to think about how close he was.

AB de Villiers defended first, against Jaidev Unadkat, and then set off for a quick single to the covers. Kallis had to face his reality. It could have been an imminently more scary reality if he was up against Zaheer Khan, Mitchell Johnson or Stuart Board, but Unadkat helped the cause with a delivery pleading "hit me" down the leg side. A glance was all it took, AB de Villiers was celebrating like it was his own double ton at the other end, and the monkey leapt off Kallis' back.

Suddenly, the run machine became a human being. He removed his helmet and said a few words to the heavens. It's likely they were for his late father, Henry, who had a big influence on his career and passed away while Kallis was on tour in England in 2003. Then, he returned to earth and acknowledged the almost capacity crowd who were on their feet worshipping. His theme song 'Life is life' by Opus was being drowned out by their applause. They waved their South African flags for him alone. A man who was always perceived as aloof and distant was being embraced by the crowd and he let them in and allowed them to share in his joy.

It was clear that Kallis' double-hundred meant a lot, not just to him but all of South African cricket. It was the elephant in the room in discussions about whether he can be considered the all-time greatest of South African batsmen. Graeme Pollock, Daryll Cullinan and Gary Kirsten, three of the strongest candidates for that label, had ticked the 200 off their list. Kallis had enjoyed a longer career than all of them but in 15 years and four days of life as an international cricketer, he was not able to do the same.

It's not that he didn't have opportunities to achieve it; it's that he never took them. In 2001, against Zimbabwe was the closest he got. On a flat pitch in Bulawayo, Kallis could easily have scored at a quicker rate, but it was at a time when he was deeply immersed in his own game and trundled along like a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. His 50 took 160 balls, his 100, a further 120 balls and he faced 443 balls in all for his 189. Kallis spent 19 minutes short of ten hours at the crease on that occasion and eventually ran out of partners.

By November 2007, Kallis was more of a team man, and had wasted a few more chances to get a double-hundred. His best opportunity came against New Zealand, when he looked supremely confident and then lost concentration when he was on 186 and was caught behind off an outside edge. His most recent opportunity came in February in Nagpur. Kallis was off to a blazing start, with 50 off 75 balls, and then settled in for the long haul. Eventually, he was out to an inside-edge that popped up to forward short-leg.

All told, Kallis has had ten innings where he has scored over 150 and wasn't able to push on to a double-hundred. This time it was different. He reached the milestone with such ease that it makes it almost inexplicable why he hasn't been able to get there before. He reached his century in style on Friday, with magnificent drives the highlight of his hundred. Kallis started slowly on Saturday morning, perhaps mindful that the maximum he had ever added to an overnight century was 37 runs.

Once he'd gone past the 150, it was a straight road to the milestone. His achievement was meaningful not just to himself, but to the team as a whole. Graeme Smith led the applause from the dressing room. Kallis' long-time friend Mark Boucher could not be seen on camera, but his delight will no doubt overflow.

The weight of expectation had finally lifted off Kallis' broad shoulders and although no one doubted his stature, it grew as much as his hair. He is not the most approachable character, he doesn't relate to fans in the same way as some of the other members of the squad because he simply isn't as much of a joker. That said, the respect they have for him and his abilities is unquestionable. Now that he has achieved the milestone that evaded him for so long, South Africans pride will only swell in being able to call him their own.

King Kallis, as they have named him, laid claim to his crown. Whether it was because of the sudden acquisition of hair on his balding scalp, the fact that he saw an opportunity more clearly and took it or that he had a desire to make a statement to an Indian team that is packed with some of the world's classiest batsmen, doesn't matter. What does is that he did it and now that he has tasted the sweetness of a double hundred, how many more will come?

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments