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While Jacques Kallis has a reputation of being aloof, of late there have been instances that showed glimpses of his other side
December 30, 2013
Jacques Kallis had been an international cricketer for as many years as it takes others to go from birth to school leavers and reach the age where they get a drivers' licence and vote in the national election. After 18 years, it's no wonder he is pre-programmed to do certain things.
Taking a catch at slip is one of them, signing autographs is another. The latter was on display at a recent fan interaction. I was waiting to do an interview with Kallis and watched from the sidelines as supporters interacted with the legend. All of them were a blend of nerves and excitement. He remained cool and composed.
He signed a selection of memorabilia, he smiled for photographs, but he maintained distance. He rarely made eye contact and he did not engage in small talk. Most were so overawed to be in his presence that they shuffled past quickly, the way tourists do at a popular monument.
Once there was no one left, I stepped into the spot the supporters had occupied, notebook and pen in hand. Absentmindedly, Kallis picked up my pen and began to sign my book.
As was his routine, just after marking the first stroke, he looked up. When he realised I was not there for his signature, he stopped mid-way and gave me a sheepish grin. "Sorry, I've been doing this all day. I'm just on auto-pilot. Did you need something?"
The interview did not last long. Kallis' answers were concise but informative, so I learnt more from watching than I did from talking. What surprised me was that Kallis remained true to his reputation of being aloof, even though he had come out of his shell in recent years.
Since early 2012, four incidents stand out for the different facets of Kallis they revealed: from his generosity to his strong views, his humanity and his love of home. This is the Kallis I think I know.
South Africa were hosting a one-day series against Sri Lanka. The second match was in East London. At practice the day before, once everyone had left, Kallis remained behind. He was soon at the centre of a circle of six school boys.
They were the recipients of scholarships from his foundation and were meeting him for the first time. Naturally there were overwhelmed. Because of him, they were being educated at a leading school, Selborne College, something they would otherwise not be able to afford. Kallis hoped it would give them the best chance of either playing cricket professionally or receiving a good enough grounding to prosper in other areas. He was obviously interested in how they were getting on.
Even though it was one of the hottest days of the year, like any initial meeting, the ice still needed breaking. Kallis, being the oldest, had to do it. He had planned a question and answer session, and a net practice, but they needed prompted. "Okay, so you can ask me anything," he said. "Or is everyone too shy?"
Eventually, the questions rolled in, some about cricket, others about life. Kallis opened up, revealing things few journalists get to hear. He spoke about the quickest bowler he faced and the best spinner, why he thought sledging should still exist in the game, the thrills of the IPL and the changing nature of cricket. He left them with advice Mark Boucher confirmed two days ago neither he nor Kallis ever took themselves: "Stay away from the girls. Only cricket, and academics."
For the first time since I started covering cricket in 2007, Kallis became a human being to me. I saw his softer side and the joy he got from making a difference.
On a drizzly evening in Dunedin, after three days of the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand, Kallis was the man tasked with addressing the media. It was not a job he enjoyed, but because he was one of two centurions on the day, with the other being the captain, he had no choice.
The questions were routine. South Africa were comfortably ahead with a lead of 233 runs and seven wickers in hand and there wasn't too much to talk about, barring one thing which Kallis actually wanted to discuss.
In the penultimate over of the day, he convinced Jacques Rudolph, who eventually also went on to score a hundred, to review being given out lbw off Doug Bracewell and was proved correct because the ball had pitched outside leg stump. On being asked what prompted him to persuade Rudolph to use the technology, Kallis launched into a lengthy monologue about the DRS as a whole and made the startling claim that the overwhelming majority of players did not trust the predictive path.
He spoke with conviction and confidence to make plain his doubts about the DRS. "How accurate it is, I don't know... We are getting that right to a degree but I am not convinced how accurate it really is. I don't think there are any guys that are 100% sure that the thing is as accurate as they want to make it out to be. They keep saying it, but I'm not so sure and I think 99% of cricketers will say that."
Kallis' speech was met with a stunned silence. Even those who had covered his career from its beginnings agreed that it was the strongest sentiment Kallis had expressed. He was known as a man who just got on with things but that day he showed he also thought deeply about them, could be bothered by them and was willing to say so.
Mark Boucher suffered a horrific eye injury in South Africa's first practice match on their tour of England. Because Boucher had planned to retire after the final match of the series, it seemed his career was over.
Word filtered through that he had spent the night in a lot of pain and was awaiting surgery. Kallis had been at his side through most of it; he did not arrive with the rest of team at the ground on the second day and did not bat, because he was with Boucher.
Midway through the day, Graeme Smith called an impromptu press conference to issue Boucher's retirement statement. Kallis was with him.
I was standing directly opposite Kallis. As Smith read from a piece of paper, his voice shaking as much as the hand that held it, I looked at Kallis. He had his hands behind his back and he was focused on a point on the horizon. His eyes had glazed over but if there were tears hidden in them, he was not going to let them spill. He looked as though he was trying to be strong but he was obviously hurting.
Few would have thought they'd see weakness and Kallis side by side, but there they were. I felt for him then. At the same time, I was proud of his devotion. With a friend like him, who could go wrong?
Kallis had not been in the public eye for at least six months. After the IPL, he withdrew himself from the Champions Trophy squad on the eve on its announcement, for personal reasons. He wanted to get away from the game.
Shortly before South Africa's tour of the UAE, he recommitted to South Africa's one-day squad. It seemed his career, although in its latter stages, had some time left, especially after he spoke before the first Test in Abu Dhabi.
Kallis took the podium looking refreshed. He explained it as being the result of a much-needed break, calling it the "best thing I could have done", and filling us in on how he had spent his time. He had played a lot of golf, including the Dunhill Links Championship, he had gone to braais, he had spent time at home with his friends. In other words, he did all the things someone who is not an international sportsmen does and he enjoyed it.
Home has different meanings and holds different importance for various people. Some want to escape it, in search of adventure. Others crave home, because they enjoy its comforts. With all the time Kallis spent on the road, all the Christmases and birthdays missed, all the normal-people things he never got to do, he fell into the latter category.
When he spoke of his life in Cape Town then, even though he had only just left it, he seemed to miss it. We should have known then life outside of cricket was calling Kallis.
He answered the call on Christmas eve. Kallis called Boucher to say he'd made his decision to retire and Boucher was not surprised. He knew as soon as Kallis began questioning his enthusiasm, the time was right.
No one saw or heard from Kallis throughout his final Test, because he asked for privacy. His guard was back up. He seemed the single-focused person he was always painted as. But the last two years, especially, have shown there is much more to him.
Kallis' reservation, Boucher explained, is a product of his childhood. Losing his mother at a young age is what Boucher said made Kallis' early years "not exactly perfect or like other children's, especially mine". Kallis formed close bonds with his father and sister. The former passed away ten years ago, so it was up to Kallis to give the latter away at her wedding last week.
Moments like that are what those who know Kallis say he lives for. Now that he has retired from Test cricket, he will be able to enjoy many more of them. And he deserves exactly that.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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