In South Africa they call him King Kallis. His entrance to the crease on Saturday did have a royal touch to it. The whole of Kingsmead was on its feet with the opposition gathering around giving him a guard of honour. After all,walking to the middle,probably for the last time,was one of the greatest ever to have stepped onto a cricket field – the foremost all-rounder of his generation.
And yet again Jacques Kallis had walked into a situation where South Africa needed him to be their Rock of Gibraltar,another synonym,by the way,that is used extensively for the 38-year-old. Graeme Smith had just thrown his wicket away after a good start. Hashim Amla had then been cleaned up by Mohammed Shami. Soon Alviro Petersen would follow suit. The hosts had slipped from a situation of strength into a predicament with who else but Kallis to grind them out of it.
In a way there was a sense of poetry to it. Kallis had arrived at the climax of his Test career only to find himself in a situation that he had made his own for 18 years. Here he was all set to ride into the sunset but still having to hold the reins of his teams fortunes for that one last time.
Not surprisingly,he went about his business like it was no big deal. King Kallis was holding court,like always with little fuss. As always though,his stroke-play was laced with plenty of majesty. His head lording over the ball with his front-foot stretched out,allowing the bat to come down with elegance and send it scurrying through the covers for four. Then the square-drive,riding the bounce and punching the ball right at its ascent past the point fielder. Kallis was doing it again.
Having said that it wouldnt have really mattered even if Kallis hadnt succeeded in his quest on Day Three. He had done enough already in his previous 165 Tests to be etched in the hall of fame of Test cricket. Not just with the bat. But with the ball,as the priceless fourth seamer. And in the slips as the impregnable barrier that rarely let a ball go past the bucket-like hands. The runs,wickets and catches-he completed 200 by the way on Friday were only part of the Kallis story.
He was South Africas man for all seasons,and all situations. Even at the Wanderers,with Morne Morkel having limped off,Kallis had filled in,bowling with the same intensity as he always has,his pace in the high 130s,and even finishing up with a couple of wickets. That spell was in many ways what Kallis meant to South African cricket.
The backbone of a batting line-up that wasnt always as dominant as it is now. The talisman of the bowling attack that probably was always as strong as the present day but also benefited greatly by his presence. And the second-slip that,in Shaun Pollocks words,was always nice to look up and see at the top of your run.
It only made sense when Pollock insisted that South Africa would soon require two men to replace his former teammate and fellow all-rounder. He could have even made that three. For,when King Kallis takes his final bow on Monday,he will not just leave with numbers that will astound and raise eyebrows for generations to come. He will also leave a crown that is unlikely to find an heir,ever.