Kallis graceful in exit, much like his batting
As the shadows grew long into a Sri Lankan afternoon on July 12 in Hambantota and South Africa drew closer to a first ever ODI series win on the island, Sachithra Senanayake skied a delivery into the wind. The air was swirling hard enough to carry the ball away, as it had done with a few others that day, but the man chasing it was wise to the possibility. That man was Jacques Kallis.
He was on the edge of the circle, he kept his eye on the ball as he had done for 19 years before, cupped his hands in the bucket-shape he had formed for 19 years and claimed the catch. He had barely scored a run in the series, he had not bowled a ball because he picked up a back niggle which forced him out of the warm-up game, but he had taken that catch. The catch that put South Africa within touching distance of the trophy.
It's fitting that has ended up as Kallis' last act in international cricket because it sums up everything that he was to South African cricket: safe, stable and strong. For almost two decades.
Early in his career, he showed he could be relied on to be the bedrock. His first ODI century came in a match against New Zealand in Perth, when South Africa were 7 for 1 in the first over and he had to provide stability. He went on to do that over and over again.
South Africa's one-day cricket philosophy in those years was one of safety-first and meant that Kallis often had to be the anchor rather than the aggressor and he was given more license with the ball. He was quick, he could swing it and his most telling performance came when it mattered most. In 1998, Kallis' 5 for 30 laid the foundation for South Africa to win the Wills International Cup (which later became the Champions Trophy). That will remain his only ICC limited-overs medal.
Kallis performed in tournaments from 1999, when his 96 against India in Hove was match-winning to 2011, by which time he had lost some ground to the live-wires like de Villiers but was still an integral part of South Africa's set-up. He wanted to hang on for one more shot at glory to complete an already glorious career. His body would not let him.
After the 2011 World Cup, Kallis' role in ODIs became less and less prominent as the focus shifted to gaining the No.1 Test ranking. He was rested from matches, a necessity considering the years he had given to the game and the workload he carried during that time, and was eventually left out of series. Gary Kirsten, who was by then the coach, explained that Kallis need not play bilateral ODI series and would only be considered for major tournaments as part of his management.
He returned for the 2012 World T20, for example, and was due to play in the 2013 Champions Trophy. But time was catching up with Kallis. Having spent years away from his family and his life in Cape Town, he wanted to be at home more and he opted out of the squad to deal for personal reasons. He spent the months between the end of the IPL in 2013 and South Africa's tour to the UAE doing "what normal people do," in his words. And he enjoyed it.
On that tour, Kallis' career appeared to be winding down like never before. He had had his leanest Test series since his debut but did not play the ODIs. Only on his return home, shortly before his Test retirement, did he recommit to the ODI team. He scored a half-century to signal his intent.
After that, Kallis struggled. His next six innings brought just 31 runs and the last three of those, only five. He also could not bowl in his last three matches because of injury. Wear and tear was always likely to play a role in Kallis' availability and on the recent tour of Sri Lanka they showed what that may be. After the amount of time Kallis has spent as an elite sportsman, it was expected the demands would catch up with him.
What never left him was his commitment. Although Kallis had a terrible run in the three ODIs, he remained a presence on the field and in the changeroom. He was often seen giving advice to bowlers, helping set fields and enjoying the victories as much as anyone else. He was part of the team even though he knew that soon it would no longer be a part of him. Kallis did what many expected when he let go first.
CSA indicated they would send a full-strength squad to play in next month's tri-series against Zimbabwe and Australia. Kallis would definitely have been part of that squad. He would also more than likely have had to travel beforehand for the three ODIs against Zimbabwe, in which key players like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and even de Villiers may be rested.
Then, he would have had to travel to Australia and New Zealand later this year, play a five-match rubber against West Indies early next year. After all that, he would still have to hope that he had done enough to crack the World Cup XV.
Of course Kallis has already "done enough," and much more in the 19 years he played for South Africa to crack the team anyway but that is not the way he would have wanted to earn his place. He would have wanted to do it on merit which would have meant being in form and being in the right frame of mind. Kallis did not need South Africa's selectors to tell him that early indications were that he would not be. He already knew.
He stepped down as gracefully as he batted. If the class of 2015 manage to claim the World Cup, they will owe some of it to Kallis.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent