Jacques Kallis is unlikely to feature in South Africa’s final Test at Perth, and Ryan McLaren has been called up to replace him. While McLaren is a handy stop-gap option, he’s by no means a long-term solution, and one can’t help but wonder whether a contingency plan actually exists for the day Kallis calls it quits. By ANT SIMS.
South Africa’s players have become the walking wounded on their tour down under, with injuries felling players left, right and centre. JP Duminy was ruled out of cricket for at least six months on the first day of the first Test in Brisbane when he snapped his Achilles tendon while doing warm-downs, and he wasn’t the only one sent to the treatment table.
Vernon Philander woke up with a sore back on the morning of the second Test at Adelaide and, although many joked that Philander probably saw how flat the deck was and “pulled a sickie”, scans confirmed that he did in fact have a problem, though thankfully not a serious one. While he is likely to be fit for the final Test in Perth, it’s been a big blow for South Africa, which has been a shadow of its number-one-ranked self from earlier this year.
The biggest blow for the Proteas is an injury to Jacques Kallis. The all-rounder pulled out of his run-up just 3.3 overs into his spell on day one, and didn’t return to the field at all. He was sent for a scan, which showed that he had sustained a grade one strain to his hamstring. Despite his injury, Kallis still notched up 58 in South Africa’s first innings, batting at number seven. He didn’t bowl in the second innings, and while his injury is not severe, managing him carefully is crucial for South Africa ahead of a busy summer at home, where they will play both New Zealand and Pakistan.
The injuries mean that South Africa has had to call for cover. Dean Elgar joined the side before the second Test, and Ryan McLaren has also been given a chance. He will leave for Australia on Monday to join up with the team ahead of the third and final Test starting on 30 November.
McLaren previously played a Test for South Africa against England in January 2010. He took one wicket and scored an unbeaten 33 lower down the order, but if South Africa has learnt anything from the injury to Kallis, it’s that life after Jacques will be excruciatingly painful.
It was Kallis who inspired a flat-looking Protea attack on day one, taking two wickets before he was struck down by injury. As soon as Kallis left the field, it seemed South Africa’s fighting spirit left with him.
He’s been the catalyst behind many South African comebacks, yet South Africa has never really prepared for what will happen the day Kallis can no longer play. The man himself has never hinted at retirement and has always insisted that he will carry on as long as his body allows him to. However, as much as Kallis is a superb athlete, sometimes your body has just had its time – and with his workload, it’s not surprise that injuries are starting to crop up.
Replacing Kallis is by no means an easy task, since it essentially means replacing two players. His workload hasn’t decreased tremendously: he has bowled around 15 overs a match on average in the last two years, compared to around 20 per match in the last five years before that. It is, however, considerably less than the 25 overs a match on average which he notched up from 2000 – 2004.
In essence, Kallis has basically started to bowl one less spell on average per match and, when he does call it a day, South Africa will have to find a player who is not only able to handle around 20 overs a match, but somebody who is also good enough to get the breakthroughs when they matter.
McLaren is a handy first-class player, having scored 3,700 runs at an average of 30.57 and taken 323 wickets in 100 matches at an average of just under 25. But McLaren is already 29, and by the time Kallis fully retires, McLaren will probably be doing the same. There are a couple of youngsters lurking on the domestic scene, but as South Africa and Australia have learnt, casting youngsters into the fire pit of Test cricket can be detrimental to their career.
South African team management faces a tough task – identifying somebody of the right age, the right calibre and the right mentality to delve into the depths of a gaping hole left by an all-rounder who has achieved so much in the game. Whether it’s one prodigy or two will remain to be seen, but if the contingency plan is anything like the ongoing failing experiment to replace Mark Boucher, it might take quite some time before the right player is called up. Assuming he is ever found, that is. DM
Photo: Australia's Matthew Wade (L) celebrates catching out South Africa's Jacques Kallis (R) on the third day of the second test cricket match at the Adelaide cricket ground November 24, 2012. REUTERS/Regi Varghese