South Africa v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Centurion, 1st day February 22, 2013

SA get taste of life without Kallis

To replace Kallis will be close to impossible as most know. But on the evidence of how South Africa have coped so far, it seems they will find a way to move on

If quality of depth is, as Graeme Smith insists, the key factor in South Africa's ability to play at a standard high enough to remain No.1 in the world, they had a chance to test that today. For the fourth time in five series, Jacques Kallis was injured and a contingency plan had to be made.

Kirsten has called Kallis a "two-in-one-player," which makes him sound like a fancy shampoo-conditioner combination but its real meaning is only understood by his actual absence. As South Africa learnt in New Zealand, to replace him really does take two players and a mindset shift.

In Wellington, they had to change the balance of their team as they picked a batsman (JP Duminy) and a bowler (Marchant de Lange) in Kallis' place. It meant leaving out the spinner (Imran Tahir). On other occasions, in England and Australia, South Africa have had to juggle the batting order to accommodate Kallis.

Managing Kallis is becoming trickier as age, not erosion of talent or lack of form, creeps up on him. Gary Kirsten confirmed he will no longer feature in bilateral ODI series but will be considered for the Champions Trophy and World Cup because those are two events he has expressed interest in taking part in. Kirsten said no much more can be asked of Kallis after 18 years of service to the country so the coach is "just happy when Kallis makes it through to a Test series."

Now, even that is a bonus. An injury which Peter Kirsten remembered afflicting him in his later years has come to haunt Kallis too and it serves as yet another reminder that the clock is ticking against him. For as long as Kallis can play, there is no doubt he will be selected but South Africa also have to confront the reality that one day his body may have the final say.

Today, they "got a sighting of that," as Hashim Amla put it in almost perfect circumstances. The series situation meant that South Africa could afford to be without Kallis. It is already won 2-0. The opposition also meant they could. Against an inexperienced bowling attack and with a tail that can wag as energetically as a puppy's on its first walk meant South Africa could be comfortable with only six frontline batsmen, not seven as has been their strategy recently.

Kyle Abbott was a straight swap for Kallis and Rory Kleinveldt the same for Morne Morkel, giving South Africa their usual four quicks with Robin Peterson as the slower bowling option. Lesson No.1: Life after Kallis may mean reverting back to a more traditional starting XI and not enjoying the luxury of an extra batsman if the bowling complement is to remain as is.

It also means the gap at No. 4 needs to be filled. Until two matches ago, it was thought that AB de Villiers would move a spot up and that was a concern. How would he handle the treble role of wicketkeeping, vice-captaincy and batting higher up? Already, he has admitted to feeling overburdened when doing all three in limited-overs matches.

That bring us to lesson No. 2: Faf du Plessis, not de Villiers, is being groomed for Kallis' spot. Du Plessis batted there at Newlands when Kallis had to move down the order because he was overbowled earlier and he has done it again now. "Faf fits in anywhere," Amla concluded. "Although he has only played a few Tests, he conducts himself as though he had played 50."

Maturity is du Plessis' standout characteristic. He had mountains of it in Adelaide when, on debut, he saved South Africa. He has since leapfrogged Dean Elgar to the No.6 spot, taken over as captain of the Twenty20 side, stood in as ODI leader and shown he has broad shoulders. If he is the eventual replacement at No.4, it will be a good move for South Africa.

Du Plessis' talent is obvious; he plays the game positively, has the ability to dig in and is strong on both front and back foot. Most importantly, he shows the potential to form part of the core in the top four that allows the middle order, and de Villiers in particular, to come in under minimal pressure.

When du Plessis was caught behind after lunch today, South Africa were 107 for 3, perhaps the most unstable situation de Villiers has been in recently with the exception of the first innings at Newlands in the last Test. Still, Amla was well set and Pakistan were out of ideas. Partners left de Villiers but he had a platform from which to build and he did so admirably. His innings was a combination of placement and timing as he found boundaries in the third man area three times through subtle guiding and beat fielders with a delicate precision.

A question remains over the No.6 batsmen. Despite his century against New Zealand, Elgar has not been convincing. That may be because he is playing out of position (he is actually an opener) but his uncertainty outside the offstump says otherwise. Jacques Rudolph and Ashwell Prince are considered spent forces but there are rumblings that the return of Duminy, who has three months to go before he will recover fully from his ruptured Achilles, will solve that problem.

To replace Kallis will be close to impossible as most, including Amla, know. "Jacques is an iconic player. You will always feel his absence," he said. But on the evidence of how South Africa have gone about doing that so far, there is something to suggest they will find a way to move on when the times comes.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Gavin on February 23, 2013, 13:00 GMT

    Kallis is irreplaceable, as a pound for pound cricketer he is the best the world has ever seen but its not looking all as bad as I would have thought a few years ago. . After after Kallis retires: Smith, Peterson, Amla, Devilliers, Du Plessis, Duminy, De Kock, Peterson, Philander, Steyn, Morkel, Abbott/De Lange. Still going to be the best team around for a while longer I think.

  • Yogesh on February 23, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    @Greatest_Game - like your comments a lot, mate. I am a US-based supporter of the Indian team. I have been a HUGE fan of Kallis's for years. What a competitor, what natural talent, what a hard worker! Those three things together have ensured his rise to the top and kept him there. Because of him, SA's had the luxury of effectively playing 12 players in every game. And it is not like he is tops at batting and ok at bowling or the other way around. He is fantastic at both, and a phenomenal catcher. Wish you the best, Jacques, in your next chapters in life. I hope he plays for many more years to come! God bless.

  • Dummy4 on February 23, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    Time and sentimentality in the game of cricket wait for no men and while I want to see Kallis continue to play test match cricket for as long as he can - I'm certain he'll finish the second highest run scorer of all time and he'll get to 300 wickets...his all rounder stats that will never be matched or surpassed!!....he is now unfortunately in the twilight of his career and it will be a sad, sad, day for SA and world cricket when he finishes. For me he is the best white batsman I've ever seen and indisputably the greatest all rounder of definitely his and possibly other eras. It'll be great if he can get to the 2015 World Cup so that we can continue to witness GREAT achievements from a truly GREAT player.

  • santosh on February 23, 2013, 11:34 GMT

    very well written article I appreciate it that south africans are thinking in 360 degree but we are talking about cricket and it is funny game as we know

  • Wesley on February 23, 2013, 8:49 GMT

    I would like to see us grooming future players. Elgar I do think can evolve but there is also the ever improving Quinton De Kock, Rillee Rossouw, Colin Ingram all capable at longer format cricket. On the bowling front, Morris, Abbott, de Lange, Tsotsobe, Klienveldt show enough depth in bowling.

    As to the Kallis dilemma, I think that all rounders evolve, some mostly bowling all rounders others batting all rounders. I think that we have the personal to work around this issue and one option is Duminy to bowl more.

    Smith, Amla, Du Plessis, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy looks a solid top six, the options therefter, Quinton de Kock can come in as a specialist batsmen or keeper if needed or we can flood the all rounders with Peterson, Philander showing talent with the bat hopefully a Chris Morris or Kyle Abbott can also evolve into capable lower order all rounders.

  • Dummy4 on February 23, 2013, 8:47 GMT

    Duminy is coming back after his injury, and then Dean Elgar would have to make way again for him, but who knows, soon it could be to fill Kallis' gap, if he retires. I'm not saying that Duminy can plug that massive hole that Kallis' absence would cause, but it would be a start. Duminy is quick between the wickets and when he gets in, he's a difficult batsman to get out. He compliments other energetic batsmen like Faf, de Villiers and Peterson down the order, plus his spin bowling isn't too bad. He adds a lot to the team!

  • Casper on February 23, 2013, 7:52 GMT

    @greatest game yes indeed I agree with you Sobers did then what kallis is doing now both great players and both will acknowledge the other as being great.

    What I do not understand however is why nobody WANT to admit that SA is currently the best even if not YET AS great as the great Windies AND Ausies of yesteryear. Since I know SA will, one day in the future not be the number 1 team (as happened to the Windies and Ausies of yesteryear) anymore, I will be happy if one day in the future they say yes this team (any other team than SA) is good the current number one but not as great as the Windies, Ausies AND SAFFAS of yesteryear. Since we are the current best and only recently got to the top however I most certainly do not want SA on the list as yet (since then we would not be number 1 anymore) - since we are still building to it but at least give SA the recognition that WE ARE THE CURRENTLY BEST and I hope we stay that for a very looooong time :)

  • John on February 23, 2013, 6:32 GMT

    Kallis' achievements are wonderful. Being without him for a test or two is one thing, but SA might find it more difficult once he's gone altogether. Faf's a fine player, but batsmen who average 56 in tests don't come along every day, and that's before his bowling is taken into account- not to mention those bucket hands making catches look easy.

    Without taking anything away from Jacques (and he would be in my XI of the best players I have seen), there are two kinds of cricket fans: those who think Kallis is as good or better than Sobers, and those who saw Sobers.

  • Rob on February 23, 2013, 4:37 GMT

    As the author quite rightly says, King Kallis is quite irreplacable. He truly is an all time great. Would the next potentially quality batsman be Stiaan Van Zyl ?

  • Grant on February 23, 2013, 2:43 GMT

    As much as Kallis enjoys the game and is colossal, its going to be best for SA for him to step back sooner than later. SA are on top and look inpenitrable, have loads of talent coming through, so look really strong.

    I'm sure he'd like to get to the batting and bowling milestones he's within sight of (topping Ponting as alltime #2 just 250 runs away; though another 12 wickets from 300 is looking increasingly distant). But that's 12 months from now, and his present form says it may take longer...though with Kallis that's just one or 2 good matches. And everyone in SA would want to share that glory too.

    SA can afford the luxury of carrying Kallis to those milestones without jeopardising their ranking, and he's earned the right to call time, but let's all agree that it IS becoming an indulgent luxury.