Jacques Kallis would never dream of blaming anyone other than himself for failing to reach 200 in any of his 28 Test centuries, so I will on his behalf.
I am to blame. Me and many of my colleagues in the media, both print and broadcast. At the start of his career, he averaged 20 after 10 Tests. Then he averaged 30 and 20 Tests. And didn’t we let him know about it!
Just as Hashim Amla faced questions about his credibility as a number three batsman before his magnificent 176 not out at the Wanderers, Kallis endured the same criticism when he was promoted to number three a dozen years ago.
But back in the 90s we were less concerned with technique, fitness and mental preparation and far more concerned with plain numbers. Maybe not just ‘concerned’, but maybe even obsessed. We regarded a Test batting average of 40 as a non-negotiable ‘must’ for our top six batsmen and repeatedly made the point that Australia’s top six all averaged over 40 while none of ours did.
Gary Kirsten and Darryl Cullinan eventually breached the barrier but for years we inadvertently contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by constantly writing and broadcasting the fact that we had no chance of competing with the best, let alone becoming the best, while our batsmen averaged 36.
And nobody suffered more than Jacques Henry. It should surprise nobody that the media’s obsession soon became his with the result that he concentrated his efforts on doing everything he could to raise his average. It meant, of course, that he could not get out. Not outs were the bricks and cement required to build a proper average.
It meant that not only did a couple of potential double centuries go abegging, but even some centuries. Kallis was determined to cement his place in the team and if that meant scoring slowly and playing so far within his limits that even his fabled cover drive was limited to sporadic displays, then so be it.
Eventually, his averaged pushed beyond 40, up to 45 and then, on the back of five hundreds in successive Tests, to the verge of 50 – and greatness rather than just ‘very goodness.’ But habits developed over a decade were hard to break and, once again, a couple of double century chances were spurned.
Things have changed now, as anyone who watched Kallis brutalise the New Zealand attack in the second half of his 186 will testify, with the 86 runs after his 100 coming from just 96 deliveries.
But now the media are at it again. Including me. ‘How do you feel about missing out on the double century AGAIN, Jacques?’ ‘Does it bother you that you haven’t scored a 200? Is it a blot on your otherwise impeccable career?’
To his eternal credit, he is still smiling.
“Let me guess what the first question will be,” he laughed when he entered the press conference room alongside Hashim Amla, his partner in a stand of 330 on the third day’s play.
“I blame Wynberg (Boys High School),” he said, “They didn’t teach me to count to 200. I keep stopping at 180!”
“Yes, of course, it’s something I want to achieve but, on this pitch with the uneven bounce, I would have taken 100 anytime. I’m very pleased with 180,” Kallis said.
But the questions will continue. Mohammed Azharuddin and Colin Cowdrey have scored the second most hundreds without a ‘double’, 22 apiece. Kallis now has 28. And he seems quite well aware that our obsession with this landmark will, in all likelihood, be just as obsessive as it was with his average.
“That’s OK,” he smiled. “Hopefully it will come. I’ll keep trying, that’s for sure.”
If he is as successful at fixing the 200 anomaly in his career as he was at fixing his average, which now stands at over 57, he’ll end up with half a dozen 200s and probably a triple or two, too.
In the meantime, I’d like to apologise for my part in the fact that he hasn’t tow or three already.
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