South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day December 19, 2013

Can Kallis make a U-turn?

He may have hit one of the roughest patches in his career, but Jacques Kallis, in the past, has shown he can recover spectacularly

Cullinan: Kallis should assess where his career is

At Mark Boucher's tribute dinner recently, he wished his best friend Jacques Kallis "best of luck for the next 20 years of your international cricket career". Amid laughter Kallis responded he would either stop enjoying it or stop contributing if he keeps playing to offer some reassurance to the audience. Those people may revisit that evening and wonder what Kallis thinks about that quip now.

A golden duck at the Wanderers - only the second of his career - is not a reason to condemn the man widely acknowledged as the best cricketer South Africa has ever produced to retirement. But because it's part of a streak in which he has only gone into double figures only once in the last six Test innings, it is an indication of something worrying.

Kallis has had the leanest Test year in 2013, for years in which he has played more than one match. In seven Tests, he's managed only 160 runs at an average of 16.00. He has not scored a century for the first time in a calendar year since 1997. In the three years preceding this one, he has averaged over 50.00.

More alarming than the sudden dip will be the manner in which he has been dismissed. In the five of his last six Test innings, including today Kallis has been out lbw to deliveries that have come into him, even if only slightly. On every occasion, he has played across the line and been late on the shot.

No example of that was clearer than today. Ishant, having bowled Hashim Amla the ball before, follow-up perfectly. He kept it full and directed it straight. Kallis looked a little slow on the shot, played across and knew he was out as soon as the ball struck the pad.

The method of dismissal could be a reflection of Kallis battling to judge the line quickly enough or simply a sign that he is short on confidence early on in his innings. As one of the most technically correct batsman around, it's likelier it is the second. That would not be too surprising considering the year Kallis has had.

He has been betwixt and between in terms of how he wants to manage what he admits are the twilight years of his career. Having said he wants to play one-day cricket, with the eventual aim of turning in the 2015 World Cup, Kallis initially made himself available for the Champions Trophy. He withdrew on the eve of the squad announcement citing a need for a break.

Since then, he has recommitted to the ODI team but his comeback has not been as successful as he would have liked. After being absent from the fifty-over squad for 19 months from March 2012, he scored a half-century on his comeback against Pakistan, but managed just 26 runs in the three innings after that.

South Africa rested him as soon as the series against both Pakistan and India were decided. While missing out on the Pakistan game with the series lost appeared a genuine attempt in managing Kallis workload, leaving him out of the India game could have been the selectors way of kindly nudging him to the exit sign in that format.

But if Kallis' career needs clipping, that should be the extent for now because Kallis still has plenty to offer in the longest format. He has had lean patches in Tests before - most recently at the end of 2011 when he scored just one half-century in seven innings - and recovered spectacularly. So there is reason to believe he will do it again.

Then, there were also concerns about his reaction times as well, particularly because he was being peppered with short balls by a young, quick Australian pack. Matters came to a head when Kallis recorded his first pair against Sri Lanka in Durban, some said his shelf life was over. Kallis responded with a double hundred in Cape Town and centuries on all three of the tours that followed.

The fourth visit - to the UAE a year later - did not bring the same success. With three single-figure scores and no wickets, statistically Kallis had the worst outing of his career. When Graeme Smith was asked if it was cause for concern, he brushed it off, adamant that the desire to continue playing at the highest level was still high for Kallis. No-one can doubt the hunger remains and the second innings may be the perfect opportunity to begin satiating the appetite.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent