Kallis likely to be available for Champions Trophy
Jacques Kallis is close to committing himself to South Africa's Champions Trophy squad despite not playing an ODI in over a year. Kallis last played a fifty-over match in February 2012 and is no longer available for bilateral one-day series but could be back into contention for ICC tournaments, as he did for the World Twenty20 last September.
After South Africa lost their January ODI series against New Zealand, Gary Kirsten revealed he was in discussions with Kallis as the team hoped to step up preparations for June's Champions Trophy. On conclusion of the Pakistan series, Kirsten disclosed that talks are still ongoing and Kallis is being persuaded.
"Negotiations are going well," Kirsten said. "Jacques Kallis is not going to play one-day cricket anymore because we value him in Test matches too much but we reserve the right to call him up in certain tournaments. The Champions Trophy is the last major tournament before the World Cup and I am excited that he may make himself available for that."
Of the many achievements on Kallis' CV, the one missing is a World Cup medal and he has previously said he would like to play until he can add one. But the next edition of that tournament is still two years away and a recent spate of injuries may make that too distant a goal. Even though the Champions Trophy is a watered down version of a World Cup, it may be Kallis' last chance to obtain ICC silverware and although it will not replace the biggest event, two Champions' Trophy medals (South Africa won the 1998 version) may be some consolation.
Bringing Kallis in cold may sit uneasily with some, though. While Kirsten maintains that the 17 years Kallis has spent as an international cricketer is enough to justify slotting him into the starting XI immediately, he is also aware that it's a move that could backfire.
For that reason, Kirsten's focus for the ODIs South Africa played this summer was on blooding those who could take over should the Kallis trump card not work. In the series against Pakistan, it seems South Africa coped better without Kallis than they have before and Kirsten was impressed with how they progressed.
Colin Ingram was installed into his batting spot at No.3 while Ryan McLaren was handed rope and told he would get a sustained run as the first-choice allrounder. Both performed well, McLaren perhaps more so, and proved they can step up.
More tellingly, the middle-order firmed up in the absence of a player like Kallis which has given South Africa an added boost ahead of the Champions Trophy. "This was a good stepping stone in terms of where we want to go. Guys like Farhaan Behardien and David Miller; people who have not done well for us in the past have been given a run and shown they are capable. It's good that we have competition and we have created depth," Kirsten said.
Batting depth was South Africa's obvious worry especially because it seemed as though they had endless supply of bowlers coming through, but creating options with ball was also important. Kallis' two-in-one role meant that when he was taken out of the mix, it also left the team without an additional bowler.
Kirsten believes they have now found a solution for that. "To have a sixth bowler in your team is crucial and we're getting there. AB used Farhaan Berhardien in Benoni and he made an impact straight away. You need someone who can take pace off the ball and bowl wicket to wicket," he said. De Villiers also tried Ingram, a move that backfired in that situation but one that he may look at again. JP Duminy, who is expected to recover in time for the Champions Trophy, is another option.
Another gain made was in the leadership core, which Kallis was not overtly part of but would have been tacitly involved on the sheer weight of his experience. Without him, Johan Botha and Graeme Smith in the last match, to lean on, de Villiers was forced to do things his way.
Not only did he manage, but he juggled it successfully with his wicketkeeping duties and took his batting to a new level as he became man of the series. "AB has made great strides in his captaincy," Kirsten said. "This has been an important series for him in all components. He has had a great couple of games."
With all the development, it seems as though Kirsten is slowly transferring the successful culture of the Test team onto the ODI squad. But he will have to wait more than two months to see if the transition is complete.
South Africa dispersed yesterday and will reconvene at the end of May to prepare for the Champions Trophy. They have a short stay in Holland, which Kirsten says will be similar to the trip they took in Switzerland before the Test series against England, before the actual competition.
Almost all the players, including Kallis, will have match time under their belts either at the IPL or on the county circuit which Kirsten can only hope will be enough as he tries to break South Africa's major tournament trophy drought.
"When players are at the IPL, they are fully involved and fully contracted. It's very difficult to have any control over your players during that time. Ideally, I'd love to get our squad together a month before Champions Trophy to prepare but that's not the way cricket is," Kirsten said.
Kallis is one of the few who can remember a time when breaks were more frequent and will want to show that even without having played ODI cricket, he can still do it and win.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent