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Jacques Kallis: 150 Tests not out

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jacques_kallis_tonDecember 14, 1995 seems an age ago. Graeme Smith had just completed his Grade 8 year at King Edward Seventh High School while there was an 11-year-old starting to make a name for himself at Warmbad Primary School by the name of AB de Villiers. But on literally and figuratively a much bigger field a 20-year-old from Western Province was making his Test debut for the Proteas at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead. The youngster got off the mark with a single off the left arm spin of England's Richard Illingworth but fell soon afterwards to a catch behind the wicket off seamer Peter Martin. There was to be no second chance as both the fourth and fifth days' play were washed out.

He was omitted – the only time he was ever to be dropped – from the next Test at Axxess St. George's but was back for the final Test of the series at Sahara Park Newlands where again his contribution was an insignificant 7 runs in the first innings as the Proteas clinched the series with a 10-wicket triumph.

But the selectors had clearly seen a lot more in Jacques Kallis than was evident from his initial international foray. It was not surprising. Coach Duncan Fletcher had brought him into the Western Province team as No. 6 batsman with the intention of moving him up the order as his career flourished. But his start was so impressive that he quickly moved him up to the all-important No. 3 position in the same season.

Two months before he made his Test match debut he toured Australia with Western Province and made 186 not out against a Queensland attack that was spearheaded by Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz. Had Eric Simons not declared he would assuredly have made that maiden double century that was to elude him for so many seasons.

He was not available for the away Test series in India but it tells everything the selectors thought of him when he was plunged straight into the No. 3 spot for his third Test against the all-conquering Australians.

He learned very quickly. Test No. 6 saw him make his first half-century in Pakistan and Test No. 7 his maiden century, again against Australia, at the intimidating MCG in front of the usually intimidating Australian crowd. It was a special innings by any standards. He batted for all of six hours to save the match for his side. It wasn't just a defining moment that a special player had arrived on the Test match scene; it was also a defining moment in telling the Master Sledgers that this was one player they could not unsettle either technically or tactically.

It was at that stage only the second century to be scored against Shane Warne in the fourth innings of a Test match (the previous instance was by Javed Miandad when Pakistan won a cliff-hanger by one wicket at Lahore).

Now Kallis comes to Sahara Park Newlands for the 150th Test match of his career – 149 for the Proteas and 1 for the ICC World XI). He is the 6th player to reach this landmark and the first from a country other than India or Australia. Remarkably 50 players have made their debuts for the Proteas in Test match cricket since Kallis became part of the team.

During his time only Sachin Tendulkar has scored more Test centuries and he has also achieved bowling and catching statistics that have matched and surpassed even the great Sir Garfield Sobers. Most importantly he has been totally unaffected by both adulation and criticism and there can be no other player in the history of the game who ranks alongside his country's all-time greats who has been on the receiving end of so much of the latter.

His focus has always been on doing what is best for the team. Some of his greatest ever performances have not been centuries for instance. One's mind inevitably goes back to the first Test against India at Mumbai in 2000 when he made 36 not out in more than three hours to get the Proteas home when they only needed 163 to win. He followed it with 95 in the following Test at Bangalore to make sure the Proteas achieved the distinction of winning a Test series in India.

Fresh questions have been asked about his ability after he was pole-axed by Dilhara Fernando in the recent Test at SuperSport Park. But all that has proved is that he is as mortal as any other cricketer. Barry Richards was felled by Australian Allan Hurst during the International Wanderers Tour in 1976 and the same fate befell Graeme Pollock against Hartley Alleyne during the rebel series against the West Indies in 1984. Both these legends went on to make many memorable runs thereafter.

In the words of another great from another code, Morne du Plessis, "great players know when to go".

Kallis will know when that time comes. Hopefully it will not be any time soon. He is enjoying his cricket as much as ever and he was clearly moved by the reception he got from the fans when he made his maiden Test double century against India. That meant more to him than the actual statistic he added to his career.

A World Cup winners' medal remains more than a dream.... It will be one of Gary Kirsten's key tasks to assess what his body can handle over the next few seasons. It probably means reducing his bowling load substantially as well as the number of games he plays in the limited overs formats.

In the short term he will undoubtedly want to score that Test century at Lord's that has always eluded him. But there are several chapters to be written before then. And he has never been one to look further ahead than the next day's play.

Also Read: Kallis cracks unbeaten ton in 150th Test

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