The Citi Golf carves its niche
"You can't compare me to Jacques Kallis. That's like comparing a Citi Golf to a Rolls Royce."
That was Ryan McLaren's self-deprecating answer when questioned about his position in South Africa's ODI team now that Kallis had made himself available for the format again. Although they are allrounders, McLaren does not rate himself in the same category as Kallis, but his comment was not simply a mark of modesty. It was a sign of how they can both fit in.
When asked whether he thought some people might prefer Citi Golfs to Rolls Royces, McLaren had a speedy response. "Depends where you're driving." Indeed it does. Everybody may like the idea of the luxurious Rolls Royce but few can experience it on anything other than special occasions.
Most of us have to make do with some version of a Citi Golf, a workmanlike, everyday car that does the job without being too flash. As long as it's reliable, we're happy to use it for years. It won't be the most expensive or most well-kept car around, but it will be something we can call our own.
By using that analogy McLaren, perhaps unknowingly, aptly described the differences between Kallis and himself. Kallis has the aura of a Rolls Royce - and a drive like one. He has aged gracefully and has been allowed the space to do so. Between March 2012 and the ongoing series against India, Kallis had not appeared in an ODI because the team management wanted to preserve him for Tests.
With the Rolls Royce parked safely, South Africa started up the Citi Golf. McLaren assumed the allrounder's role but it was slightly different to the one Kallis performed. Instead of cruising serenely, "batting higher up and bowling a few overs," as McLaren put it, he was required for a less glamorous task. "I have a different role lower down the order at No. 7 and have to bowl at first or second change."
He hoped to carve a niche for himself, so that when the Rolls Royce was ready again, the Citi Golf could continue chugging along in its lane. McLaren developed skills different to Kallis. He worked on his batting so he could power South Africa in the final overs, like he did with 71 against India in Cardiff, and his handful of scores in the 20s against Pakistan. He became more of a bowling allrounder and worked on exploiting bounce, bowling the slower ball and honing his yorker. The results are evident: McLaren is 2013's third-highest wicket-taker in ODIs.
When McLaren was left out on Kallis' return, there was some dissatisfaction, most notably from Pat Symcox, who called for the selectors' heads. McLaren was promptly restored to the XI and convener of selectors Andrew Hudson said he would probably play more games than he misses.
The same does not apply to Kallis. Although he has looked a little rusty on return, he has been rested for the dead rubber in Centurion. Kallis' form may not be a concern - the 2015 World Cup is so far out that runs now may not be a consideration for that event at all - but finding the right combination around him should be. South Africa have not yet managed to do so.
In Durban, once Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla had laid the platform, Kallis was pushed down the order because the likes of AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and David Miller were tasked with accelerating the innings. The plan backfired and Kallis had to come in at No. 6, to little effect. In the end, McLaren ended up doing the finishing, taking 20 runs off the final over with Vernon Philander. It highlighted where South Africa's ODI team is headed. Sometimes a Citi Golf is better suited for the task than a Rolls Royce.
With no ODIs on their schedule after tomorrow for seven months, South Africa have time to mull over whom they would prefer in their 50-over set-up, or how they can accommodate both allrounders. For now, the Rolls Royce is resting and the Citi Golf and his colleagues are aiming to dent India's confidence further.
McLaren confirmed South Africa are looking to inflict mental blows on India ahead of the two Tests. "We want to keep a high intensity and energy, psychologically we want to make inroads," he said.
He also has a personal goal for the summer. "I want to get into a position where I can get in the queue for the Test team," McLaren said. He has played only one Test for South Africa, against England in January 2010, but has an impressive first-class record. With South Africa's No.7 spot up for debate, McLaren hopes the selectors will consider a Citi Golf for the role.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent