Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd ODI, Pallekele July 9, 2014

South Africa face the Kallis question

Accommodation for a great player like Jacques Kallis should be made with careful consideration and South Africa cannot get carried away with sentiment

End of line? Jacques Kallis ODI utility is in focus © Associated Press

When the questions first began about when Jacques Kallis' international career would end, they were prompted by a short-ball assault. In the summer of 2010, Kallis was attacked by a barrage from Pat Cummins in Johannesburg and for the first time, Kallis appeared to cower.

Cummins had Kallis ducking uncertainly, leaving a periscope behind. He had Kallis taking evasive action against missiles aimed at his throat and head. He had Kallis thinking more in the 19 deliveries he spent at the crease then than he had in years. Then he had Kallis dismissed.

The over-analysis then was premature but the seed had been planted. Some feared Kallis' reaction times were slowing; others that his desire was diminishing. Their flames were stoked when Kallis recorded the only pair of his career in the Test after that, against Sri Lanka in Durban.

But Kallis was not done. He scored a double ton in Cape Town - the second of his career - and centuries in New Zealand, England and Australia in the 12 months that followed. Those innings were Kallis' way of making one thing clear: he would leave on his own terms.

After injury concerns in four out of five Test series between March 2012 and March 2013 and a lean run against Pakistan in which he scored one half-century in nine innings, Kallis decided he'd had enough. He opted to sign off against India and for good measure scored a century in his final Test innings. But his recent ODI form will fling that into the spotlight again.

Kallis has contributed just one run in the two matches on the current tour of Sri Lanka. That would not have stood out as sorely if he performed in some other way but Kallis has not bowled at all, neither has had much to do in the field. And it's not as though South Africa haven't needed him to.

He has been installed in what is regarded the prime spot in the batting line-up, which is also where he is most comfortable - at No.3. He has twice had to come in with South Africa under pressure and he has twice failed to assist in easing that. Most concerning bit is that he has been outfoxed by his opponents.

In Colombo, he played all around an Ajantha Mendis carrom ball. In Kandy, he was bounced out by Malinga. The second dismissal can draw haunting parallels with what happened four years ago, when Cummins peppered Kallis.

The Cummins' incident is also not the only comparison that can be drawn. There are the niggles and the effect that has on his ability to bowl. Kallis was ruled out of the warm-up match on this tour as a precaution because he hurt his upper back in training. In the build-up to the first match the main concern was over how much - not if, if AB de Villiers is to be believed - Kallis would be able to bowl.

It has since transpired that he would not bowl at all. A team source revealed Kallis experienced discomfort when bowling in the practice session ahead of the second ODI. Subsequently, de Villiers has confirmed Kallis has been picked as a batsman only so far, which is why he could not step in when Dale Steyn went off the field injured.

"I was desperate to use him but he is just not ready yet. It could put him back a month or two if we use him too early," de Villiers said. "That was the risk that we came into the game with. We knew he will only bat in the first and the second ODI."

De Villiers remains hopeful that Kallis will be able to contribute with the ball soon, especially because South Africa need him to. "Hopefully in the third he will be ready again. We are different team if he can bowl a few overs."

South Africa already know that from the effect Kallis has had on their Test team, both when he is not there and when he cannot bowl. Kallis had a stiff neck which ruled him out of the third Test against New Zealand in Wellington in March 2012. South Africa had to alter the composition of their team to make up for his absence and left out the spinner, Imran Tahir, for a quick bowler and an additional batsman. They could not bowl New Zealand out and drew. Kallis could not bowl for some parts in the Test against England at Leeds in 2012. South Africa drew that match after a Kevin Pietersen blitzkrieg.

Those occasions could be dismissed as one-offs because South Africa always knew Kallis would be back for the next Test. Of course now he won't be.

But his commitment to the one-day side remains undeterred as he eyes the 2015 World Cup and de Villiers seems to have transferred the security South Africa placed in Kallis the Test player to Kallis the ODI player. "He has played enough cricket and been through enough bad patches in his life to know how to get through it," de Villiers said. "He is hitting the ball really well in the nets. He got out in an unlucky way tonight. Those balls goes for four more often than not but unfortunately for him, it did not come off."

Graeme Smith said similar things when Kallis had the leanest series of his career against Pakistan in the UAE last November. Two series later Kallis retired and cited a loss of enthusiasm, albeit a small one, to keep performing at the highest level.

The signs are all there that the same thing is happening in fifty-over cricket. Even before Kallis' Test retirement he did not come across as first in the queue when it came to putting on coloured clothing. To manage his Test load, he did not play ODI cricket between March 2012 and November 2013, a period of 20 months. Understandable.

But on the one occasion when there was a chance for Kallis to turn out for South Africa in ODIs without it interfering with his Test commitment, he gave it a miss. Last June, Kallis was a such certainty in South Africa's Champions Trophy squad that a few days before the outfit was unveiled convener of selectors Andrew Hudson told journalists Kallis would travel to England. In the time between that and the squad announcement, Kallis contacted then coach Gary Kirsten and asked to be left out of the tournament for personal reasons. South Africa's plans went awry and they lost in the semi-finals.

Kallis recommitted to the ODI set-up shortly afterwards and was included in home series against Pakistan and India. Both series were three matches long and Kallis played two. Workload was again the main concern.

Apparently that is not going to be the case in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup. Both Russell Domingo and Kallis himself have repeatedly said Kallis will play in most of the matches South Africa feature in before the World Cup. That will include the current Sri Lanka series, matches against Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies. That should give Kallis enough time to prepare properly for the one prize he wants to complete his CV.

South Africa are just two matches in on their journey to the World Cup, so it is far too early to be making overarching assessments but the Kallis experiment is not looking promising. Nevermind that he has only managed one run and not much else, he is keeping a player of the calibre of Faf du Plessis - whose ODI numbers do not reveal his potential in the format - out of the XI and causing South Africa to constantly revise their strategy.

Accommodation for a great player like Kallis should be made with careful consideration. South Africa's think-tank cannot be carried away by sentiment and that may mean they will have to acknowledge what Cummins hinted at four years ago. Kallis will be no less a legend for it but he may not have the opportunity to add to his legacy.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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