Everybody beyond their early adulthood years will have experienced moments of introspection, times during which they questioned their reasons and motivations for doing what they were doing, their enjoyment and sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Obscenely remunerated chief executives in the worlds of law, commerce and banking take ‘sabbaticals’ without us even knowing. If a celebrated actor or entertainer does so we are instinctively sympathetic or – at worst – civil and tolerant of their indulgence. The fact that sportsmen can incur our ire when doing so merely confirms how much more emotionally attached we are to them.
Jacques Henry Kallis spent six months away from the game to reassess his priorities and to attempt the impossible – to ‘quantify’ how much he still enjoyed international cricket and how much he wanted to carry on. For most of us, it’s like trying to measure how much we still love our children, or parents. Very much, hopefully, but you have to say goodbye and move out at some point.
Kallis thought long and hard about what he wanted and, more importantly, what was best for the team and for South African cricket. For as long as his career continued, he was determined not to play for statistics and personal milestones.
Records and milestones would come and they would go, but Kallis was all too aware that nothing lasting or meaningful would be achieved without preparation of the most meticulous and dedicated sort. The sort that saw him ironing his own whites the night before a Wynberg under-14 match at the behest of his father, Henry.
His time away from cricket was as physically agile as it was mental. He underwent the most stringent fitness regime of his career under the guidance of renown personal trainer Jonno Meintjies, the same man who helped Graeme Smith shed over 10 kilogrammes in just 10 weeks and reach peak aerobic and strength ratings following his ankle surgery. Whatever cricket his head and heart told him to pursue, it was vital that the rest of his body was up to the task.
A first look at the itinerary announced for the India tour presented an obvious and tempting point of departure – the traditional New Year test at Newlands, his beloved home crowd and scene of nine of his 44 centuries.
“Everyone always said I’d know when the time was right,” Kallis said shortly before the announcement of his decision, “and they were right.”
When the wrangling started between CSA and India’s BCCI, the landscape changed. Kallis was persuaded by close friends and associates to remain for the summer-ending tour by Australia during which he would have another opportunity to say farewell at the ground where he averages 72 in 22 tests.
But, perhaps, he felt it was a touch self-indulgent. The New Year test would have been about the cricket-loving people of Cape Town. To say goodbye in February may have felt it was more about him than them. It was too close to breaking his golden rule – team before individuals.
So, having spoken to Graeme Smith during the Wanderers test and been asked to sleep on it, he finally knew what he had to do. He had been part of winning test teams in England and Australia, the final frontiers. Must as he still loved the test game, it was time to let it go.
Kingsmead is neither the place nor the occasion he would have chosen to say farewell, but best friend Mark Boucher is well positioned to remind him that fairytale farewells don’t always work out quite as you might like.
If there were no unconquered peaks remaining in test cricket, the same could not be said of limited overs cricket. South Africa’s failures at ICC events, particularly World Cups, have always stuck in his throat.
The tactical blunder which saw Allan Donald omitted from the quarterfinal in 1996 was where it all started for Kallis.
Then there was the 1999 semifinal tie, still the most painful match of his career. Then it was D/L horror on home soil four years later, a massive semifinal choke against Australia in 2007 and more misery in Dhaka in 2011.
He may not make the squad for 2015 but, having proved he still has the ability and the desire, he didn’t want to retire and run the risk of wondering ‘what if’ in the decades to come.
“There’s no way I’ll still be available for selection for the ODI team if I’m not performing and contributing to winning games. I have never asked for a favour, I don’t expect any and I won’t accept any. And if I had any doubts about whether I could contribute towards the next World Cup, and play an important role during it, I would have withdrawn right now,” Kallis said.
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