The Kallis conundrum

Jacques Kallis turning his arm over at ODI level is an increasingly rare, if not extinct, sight.

The ICC Champions Trophy (and thankfully the last ever) will be held in England in June this year.

While it is a tournament that the world cricket calender never needed, it still has enough credibility for the big cricketing nations to take it seriously. 

South Africa would be hoping to win their first piece of ICC silverware since the 90s (after triumphing at the 1998 edition). While the South African squad we saw in action against Pakistan over the summer looked to be the line-up that would do battle in England, two names were missing that will probably be in the team sheet. 

The first is JP Duminy, who really started to look like he had cemented his place in both the Test and ODI sides. Following his injury in Australia last year that has ruled him out for quite some time, his return to fitness is important for the balance of the team, given his off spin bowling is of a very useful standard.

The major question mark remaining is that of Jacques Kallis. No longer available for bilateral one day series, Proteas coach Gary Kirsten is reportedly doing his best to convince Kallis to return for the tournament.

There is a notion doing the rounds in the republic that Kallis should not be drafted straight into the starting XI given his relative lack of action at ODI level. While it certainly would have implications on his form, it is a no-brainer to bring Kallis in given the outstanding balance he brings to any side he plays for, plus his experience.

He bats at three, is a reliable close in fielder and can carry 10 over if need be with the ball. As his career winds down, the Proteas have rightfully prioritised Tests as the arena where Kallis’ efforts will be focused. However, if they can bring him in for the Champions Trophy, South Africa will be the better for it.

It will likely serve as King Kallis’ last ODI appearance given that the next World Cup is two years away and by then he would be verging on the same age as Sachin Tendulkar, who it should be said, should have retired after India won the 2011 World Cup. The Little Master has decided to carry on, to the detriment of his reputation and his legacy.

Kallis on the other hand has appeared to get better with age, and with the generation of South African batsmen that followed him, in the form of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith and Duminy, having taken up the scoring reigns and removed the burden of carrying the team as he did in the last 90s and early 2000s, Kallis has gone on to become a better batsman staggeringly as he has gotten older. He has triumphed in his career dual with peer Ricky Ponting, and along with Shiv Chanderpaul and Tendulkar, is the last player to have made his debut in the 1990s. The man represents an epoch in the sport.  

Jacques Kallis playing for South Africa in any format is a massive advantage the Proteas should take advantage of, before the great man leaves the field for good. If he is in the team, the Proteas should be seen as the favourites given how conditions in England will suit South Africa better than their Asian. Australasian and West Indian couter parts. England? They might be distracted by the upcoming Ashes battle. 

Axing of Australian players from over report seems a bit much

Shane Watson is on his way back to Australia after being disciplined for not handing in a report. Will this mark the beginning of the end for his Test career, or Mickey Arthur?

I wonder how many of Australia’s former cricketers are either rolling in their graves or shaking their heads in dismay at the news that vice-captain Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson have been axed from the Test side for their third encounter against India for supposedly not handing a report in on time.

This does not seem like the Australia we know. The Australia world cricket knows does not take such dramatic action then broadcast it to hammer home the point. While details of why the players have been axed probably would have leaked out anyway, it seems a bit harsh for a minor error. Cricket players are paid to play cricket, not write reports.

Look, there is probably a lot more to it than just not doing as asked, but Watson flying home is a bad look for Australia considering he is the vice-captain and one of Australia’s more experienced players. Considering how they have been outplayed on their Indian tour thus far, Australia need all the help they can get.

Watson is more motivated returning home since his wife is expecting, but his words to the Australian newspaper do not make great reading for cricket officials Down Under.

Watson: “Anytime you are suspended from a Test match, unless you have done something unbelievably wrong . . . I think it is very harsh,” he said. “In the end I have got to live with it . . . I am at a stage where I have to weigh up my future with what I want to do with my cricket in general, to be honest.”

One also wonders what sort of effect this might have on feelings about Mickey Arthur being the man at the top. Not a universal choice, and a South African to boot which the Australians deep down inside don’t like (or trust perhaps), he is struggling for credibility. However, this latest diktat will only boost the call for his head ever louder, regardless of whether his job is at stake at all.

 

The only ones mildly amused by this would be India, who now look ever better favourites to finish the series off with a match to play in Mohali, starting on Thursday. Michael Clarke’s involvement in all this will also fall under the microscope, but given he is the only man essentially keeping the Australian batting order together, he has other problems on his plate. 

Sharks the SA team to beat in the early stages

John Plumtree arguably has the best squad in South Africa to pursue this year’s Super Rugby title

The Sharks have managed to get their Super Rugby season off to a good start with victories over the Cheetahs and Stormers respectively. Their 12-6 victory over last year’s South Africa conference winners was impressive given the intense collisions taking place around the rucks. It was not great rugby, but it was not poor either, and now the Durbanites have two from two, setting them up for the first half the season.

Their main opposition in the South Africa conference will come from the Stormers, and the Bulls. Morne Steyn, who will be heading to France after the Currie Cup, appears to be the form flyhalf in South Africa at the moment though his team did not cover themselves in glory after beating the Force at Loftus in a poor display 36-26. The scoreline flatters the hosts.

While upfront the Bulls are in fine shape, its their lack of creativity in midfield, typified by a shorn Wynand Olivier, that appears their biggest problem. While their intensity will noticeably improve this coming week against the Blues, Bjorn Basson’s injury is a hammer blow, as the man has the ability to score tries out of nothing.

The Stormers appear to be in better shape this year than last, with Lions players bolstering their ranks. Elton Jantjies, the mercurial flyhalf who when firing is arguably the best in the country, is still settling in in Cape Town with his preparations for the season dealt a large set-back following the sad passing of his father.

Jaco Taute, another Springbok recruit from Johannesburg, is still injured while in midfield Juan de Jongh has not been able to work his way back to full fitness yet. Damian de Allende is a talent, but what should concern coach Allister Coetzee is the effectiveness of his captain Jean de Villiers at 13. Having lost the pace to truly exploit a hole, his distribution is slightly nullified given the ball passes through three sets of hands before getting to him.

The Sharks have the best dept especially among the loose, and given how long the Super Rugby season is, depth is always an important factor for any team seriously planning an assault on the title. In JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo they have two of South Africa’s four best wings while the return of Frans Steyn, surprisingly captaining the side, from midfield rectifies one of their weaker positions last year.

It’s early days yet but the Sharks appear the best equipped side to mount a serious Super Rugby challenge to the likes of the Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs, Chiefs, Crusaders and already this year’s dark horses, the Blues.