India in South Africa 2013-14 December 3, 2013

South Africa faced with Kallis conundrum

With Jacques Kallis being part of South Africa's plans for World Cup 2015, they have to work out the best way to build their eleven around the veteran allrounder - no easy task at the moment

The harsh truth about Johannesburg is that the city only exists because of goldmines. Everything else - the sprawling suburbs, the shopping malls, the largest man-made forest in the world (or so they say) - was built around the need to develop a town for the people who worked the mines and their families.

It fits nicely then that South Africa will start their one-day series against India in this city, where they will begin figuring out how to build their team around its own goldmine - Jacques Kallis. The allrounder made his one-day comeback in the series against Pakistan, although he sat out the final match with a finger sprain, and is expected to play the full series against India in a bid to enter stage two of World Cup 2015 planning. Everyone else will have to fit in around him.

Now that Kallis has recommitted to 50-overs cricket, the shape of South Africa's one-day team has to change again. So far, they've made room for Kallis by leaving out Faf du Plessis, who will have to score mountains of runs to be recalled, especially given the already tight squeeze for places, and there's a chance more will have to fall by the wayside too.

"Having Jacques back does pose some selection challenges because if Jacques is fit and available and in good form, any coach would love to have him," Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach, said. "The issue is figuring out whom to leave out."

Andrew Hudson, the convener of selectors, told ESPNcricinfo that South Africa have two strategies they are developing to solve that problem. "It depends on what type of cricket we want to play," he said. "Our first option is to play seven batsmen and four bowlers, with Jacques as the fifth, like we did in Cape Town."

In that match, the first ODI against Pakistan at home, South Africa played an XI that included three seamers and a spinner but left out their other allrounder Ryan McLaren. After being named Man of the Series in the UAE, McLaren was considered unlucky to be sidelined in that game by everyone including his coach. "He could feel hard done by," Domingo said.

But Hudson has a way to accommodate both Kallis and McLaren by "playing maybe a second allrounder". South Africa did that for the second match against Pakistan, in which they had to bench Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel for McLaren and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

However, then there is the case of too many bowlers, as they had in that match. It usually means McLaren will be the man to miss out, as was always expected, when Kallis is good to go. That McLaren has become one of South Africa's most reliable performers after being given a sustained run in the team does not matter when he is vying for a place in the eleven with the man widely acknowledged as being the best cricketer South Africa has produced.

"With Jacques coming in, Ryan does [have to] compete with him," Hudson confirmed. "And if we do select Ryan, who do we leave out? There's no doubt Ryan's own game has come on and we're delighted for that. You'll probably find there won't be many games when we leave him out, but we also need to balance the side."

In short, that describes the future for McLaren. He is second fiddle to Kallis and Hudson said he "understands" that. No matter how good McLaren becomes, for as long as Kallis is in the mix, he will always only be considered as the "other" allrounder and if South Africa need to make use of other bowlers to vary their attack, McLaren will be the man to miss out.

That reality caused former allrounder Pat Symcox to tell local media this week that McLaren would have been better off playing in England and the selectors "should resign". The wider implication is that for as long as Kallis remains in South Africa's one-day plans, others who have been used as stop-gaps - Colin Ingram and du Plessis are the obvious examples - will be forced out.

For former batsman Daryll Cullinan, that is not good enough because it leads to an "unsettled, insecure" team. Cullinan believes Kallis had been allowed too much leeway and he should either "fit into South Africa's plan" or they should "move on" from him.

Cullinan proposed using the Test batting line-up in ODIs, with the tweak of moving Kallis to No. 6 in order get the best out of South Africa's 50-overs side. "Kallis should play as a bowling allrounder so that he can come in in the second Powerplay and then accelerate the innings," Cullinan said. "If we're looking at the World Cup and we look at Kallis' [tournament] stats, you will see that in 36 matches, he only has one century and he has never been a campaign-winning batsman."

Although Kallis' World Cup average of 45.92 is better than his overall of 45.13, he has, as Cullinan put it, "never got South Africa into the final and has held the prime batting position to do that". Deploying him in a different capacity is what Cullinan thinks will allow that to change, but only if South Africa's entire 50-overs philosophy changes.

"Fifty-overs cricket is not an extension of T20 cricket, it is a shortening of Test cricket," Cullinan said. "For that, you need a pattern of play and a structure, and at the moment South Africa don't have that. The guys only have a blurred understanding of that and that has to change. One-day cricket is about developing relationships, guys have to know their roles and trust each other. With so many changes, that can't happen."

For as long as the World Cup remains Kallis goal, South Africa's eleven is likely to be unsettled because of the question mark that sits over his constant availability. Kallis' workload needs to be managed and there is no guarantee he can play every ODI before the main event. He also needs to be kept as fresh as possible in Tests. And so the conundrum remains complicated.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent