When Jacques Kallis arrived at Kingsmead 18 years ago, he sat in the changing room and looked out the window. He did the same thing before his last Test this week.
“Nothing much has changed since then, except me,” he said. “I’ve got a little bit older, got a little bit wiser, lost a little bit of hair, gained a little bit of hair. My dad was here watching my first Test. Today, I had my sister watching my last. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to do what I love.”
The affection for the game has not dimmed but the desire to meet the demands of playing at elite level has. There’s much more that goes into preparation for Test cricket than what the public can see and the mental and physical toll was weighing heavily on Kallis. Many players say there is an epiphany, a morning when they wake up and know it’s over.
Kallis had his about a week ago when he told Graeme Smith, then Mark Boucher, then his team-mates and Cricket South Africa. “I felt I lost that little bit of an edge because mentally it is quite tough over the five days. If I can’t give 100%, I don’t want to be bringing a team down,” he said. “I had 18 wonderful years. I woke up and said its time; I am 100% convinced that it is. Sometimes when you are in the grind you just keep going. When I started playing, I said I wanted to leave the game in a better state than when I joined it, hopefully I’ve done that.”
The send-off Kallis received was confirmation that he has done that. Forget the numbers – we’ll get to them – look at what his team-mates did to make his final day special. Before the match, everyone from Graeme Smith to Dale Steyn said they wanted to win the Test and the series for him. He led them out. Then, he led their batting effort. That probably wasn’t part of the plan but it was proof of how much he could still offer.
The other nudge Kallis got would have been a reassuring reminder that he had the made the correct call. During his hundred, he tweaked his left hamstring, which meant bowling would have been a struggle. Still, if he was asked to do a job, he could have. “If I needed to bowl today, I would have bowled. I guess it would have been nice to end without having a little niggle and to play a role with the ball. Luckily the guys bowled unbelievably and didn’t need me.”
It went beyond need. It was what his team-mates wanted – to show Kallis how much he meant to them. He didn’t hit the winning runs and Smith confirmed Kallis probably would have come out at No. 4 because he does things “by the book”, but he was at the forefront of their celebrations.
After Smith sealed the win, the South African players were nowhere to be seen. They did not arrive to meet the Indian counterparts on the steps for the customary handshakes. Instead, Smith and Alviro Petersen raced off the field and disappeared into the dressing room. Fifteen minutes later, they emerged with custom-made t-shirts to commemorate Kallis’s career. On the front was an image of Kallis waving, on the back was printed, “The only cricketer to have scored 10,000 Test runs and taken 200 wickets.”
Those numbers deny him the other 3289 runs, 92 wickets and 200 catches but that wouldn’t bother him. “Records have never been important to me,” he said, as he always has before beginning his other line we all know “Maybe one day when I am finished”. That’s when it hit. “I guess now I’ll look back on it. I’m proud of what I achieved.”
His feats include being part of a Test team that became the best in the world and being ranked the No. 1 Test allrounder for a lengthy period of time. It’s also about conducting himself in an unassuming and distinguished manner. “I’ve always been one that’s tried to lead from the front. I’ve never been one to shout my mouth off, I just tried to get the job done and quietly pass on the knowledge that I have,” he said.
“I’ve always believed you play the game hard on the field without crossing boundaries. At the end of the day, you still want to have mates. If you can go to most of the players you’ve played the game against and have a beer, you’ve done that, and I think I could.”
Like many cricketers, the friendships are something Kallis will treasure most. Those friends carried him on their shoulders and took him around Kingsmead one final time. He carried a South African flag and waved to the crowd. He was only held aloft by Graeme Smith and Morne Morkel for about a tenth of the way. By the time he got to Castle Corner, he was on his feet and made to down a beer.
“I’ll miss the friendships. The winning times, the losing times, the tough times. The support,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have incredible support. From coaches, like Keith Richardson, Bob Woolmer, Duncan Fletcher and I’ve had friends and family that have put up with me being away for many months, especially my sister.”
Janine is the person Kallis played garden cricket with in his childhood. “You dream of playing for South Africa then,” he said. “But to play 166 Test matches for South Africa, I don’t think anyone ever dreams of that. I am thankful for every game I played, right up until the last one.”
From one Durban Test in 1995, to another in 2013, Kallis has realised “time goes quickly”. His advice to young players is: “Really enjoy your career. Enjoy what it offers you, the countries you tour, try and take in the cultures. It’s given me experiences I would never have had. I’ve met many people I probably wouldn’t have.”
The journey is not over for Kallis. He remains part of South Africa’s ODI set-up, with his target the 2015 World Cup. Although he took a 19-month break from 50-over cricket from March 2012 to November this year, and has only played four matches since he has committed himself to doing everything he can to be ready to bring home some silverware.
“Not playing Test cricket is going to free me up a little bit. I’ll spend a whole year concentrating on one-day stuff and I am very excited,” he said. “We will manage the workload but I would like to play in most of the one-day cricket before the World Cup. I’ll also play some T20s competitions around the world to make sure I keep playing. By the times it comes, if I am good enough and I get selected, hopefully I will be playing best ODI cricket of my life.”
He also hasn’t ruled out a coaching role. “The game has given me so much I would like to give something back, maybe as a batting mentor,” he said. But first, it will be about getting what MS Dhoni hinted at when he said life was waiting for Kallis. And Kallis can’t wait.
“I’ll be playing a lot of golf. And just doing normal things people do,” he said. “Just not traveling every couple weeks and spending time at home. Spend time with people I haven’t had the opportunity to be with. Last Christmas was the first time I was home in 18 years and that was an eye-opener for me. I’d like to catch up.”