Way before he came to be known as “King Kallis,” a moniker that befits a modern legend of our times, Jacques Kallis found himself and his South Africa staring at a precarious situation and that too, in the Proteas’ maiden contest in the elite 1999 ODI World Cup.
Never a healthy start to any series when you begin on a losing note, more so in the mother of all sporting battles.
But with quintessential Jacques Kallis-ness; an element of cricket built on the painfully-correct tedium of focus and pure application, the South African saw his team home.
But it wasn’t easy.
And it was not before duelling with a very in-the-game and charging India that had put up a competitive 253 on the board.
Let’s appreciate that there existed a period of time where a 270 team total seemed a 300-310 and where a 250 was no less than a 280 by today’s high octane standards.
Prior to Jacques Kallis arriving at the crease during South Africa’ chase, the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly had set the perfect tone to a chilly Brighton afternoon, compiling a dogged 130-run stand after India lost Tendulkar for an ordinary 28.
But Ganguly and Dravid dug in for a full 26 overs, during which they faced the heat of a domineering pace quartet that featured the greats- Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, and Kallis himself.
Their hundred-plus stand might have been slow in its construction but it saved India the blues, Dravid’s 54 and Ganguly’s 97 signalling the Proteas that Indians were in the contest and here for the win.
Though, it was anything like that for South Africa who lost both openers inside the first seven overs.
Was this really the Proteas line-up that in the peak of its nineties might appeared daunting, one wondered?
With key batsmen in the dugout, it wasn’t hard to note which team was on the blackfoot.
With the great Gary Kirsten departing for 3, facing no fewer than 22 deliveries, losing his stumps to Srinath while Gibbs plumb in front, also to Srinath, for just 7, the Protean run-chase was as off the road as is a Formula 1 car off the track and in the gravel trap in the mid-way stage.
But all was not lost.
With the score reading 22-2 and Indians chuffed like a weightlifter having picked a gold, in walked Jacques Kallis, then exactly 65-ODIs old.
At the other end was Mark Boucher.
But Kallis then wasn’t the man-mountain sporting a gym-frequenter like physique nor a man heavily armed with white-ball experience.
Not peak Jacques Kallis of the 2000s as you might put.
This was a 23-year-old boy transitioning into being a dependable middle-order rock, someone who was participating in just his second world cup.
And what lay ahead were acerbic challenges. Srinath was assisted by natural lateral movement and Prasad was economical to say the least.
Moreover, Kumble would form the crucial triumvirate of an attack that wasn’t hard to decode.
With no easy runs coming from any direction and the ball doing much of the talking, it was time for Kallis to answer with the bat.
And he did.
One of the early highlights of his knock was the cover drive he struck against Srinath on the third delivery of the 10th over.
Head perfectly in position, Kallis just pushing the ball off the blackfoot to the cover boundary whilst both legs were airborne.
Just perfect placement and timing, the very essentials of a true artist who’s gone on to paint the canvass of the game with illustrious colors.
And this knock of 96 valuable runs was evidence of just that.
Resorting also on 1s and 2s, Kallis and Boucher slowly allowed South Africa to crawl back, theirs was a key 44-run stand when the wicketkeeper was sent packing by Kumble.
The score- 68 for 3.
But Jacques Kallis was still there. A shot of nervousness would soon follow against Agarkar, Kallis flirting with a widish delivery outside off, that gave his team a near heartache and the batsman four runs, the Proteas 72 for 3 at the start of the 15th over.
With Cullinan, clearly not in the best of touches that afternoon hanging on at the other end, Kallis grew in confidence.
The runs were steadily coming.
He’d lash hard against a shorter one by Srinath, sending the ball to the extra cover boundary, his arms wide open. But not to mark a celebration even as this was time to reap a little reward, having batted for 20 straight overs.
Jacques Kallis had reached his fifty, which was then the thirteenth of his growing career and his first in six world cup innings. And it was arguably one of the shots of the run-chase, the score now 131-4 with another 123 to get from 132 deliveries.
Importantly, having batted for over 20 overs, Kallis had got his eye in. The Proteas were back in the game.
Then came the shot of the match, and by a fair margin, as immediately after touching his milestone, Kallis danced down the track and that too against South Africa’s top-order tormentor, Javagal Srinath.
In hitting a rather uncharacteristic albeit gritty lofted drive over cover, Kallis moved to another boundary.
After an over and a half, he’d glide one down the leg side to an easy four towards fine leg.
The South African flags by this time were outnumbering those of India. There was a sense of newfound confidence that the game was anything but lost even as Cullinan had departed a little while back.
In the final sixteen overs, South Africa needed 98 to win. Importantly, the rock of the middle-order was standing erect.
The equation? India versus Jacques Kallis.
Though it’s not that every shot was laced with sheer perfection. With the score at 156-4, a little caught and bowled chance went begging as Kumble was a touch too late to dive, Kallis surprised by one having extra bounce.
Then on the final ball of the 41st over, Kallis edged an Agarkar-no ball to the vacant first slip area. The result? Another boundary.
With his grit and composure, there were also flashes of exaggerated risk-taking, a perfect Jacques Kallis attempt to create ripples in a composed Indian bowling attack.
But the greatest strike carved against a legend like Anil Kumble came from the meat of the bat, Kallis rocking onto the blackfoot to execute a pitch-perfect cover drive, and with it taking the score past 200.
After playing shots all around the park, having lasted for no fewer than 128 deliveries for his top knock, Kallis in the end manufactured his own undoing.
On the third delivery of the 45th over, South Africa already on 225, Kallis danced down the wicket yet again to Srinath and guided the ball to the widish third man region, patrolled by Venkatesh Prasad.
In hurrying for one run too many, when he’d already collected two, he found himself short at the non-striker’s end with Srinath running him out.
Knowing the man’s selflessness, the thought of having not reached a hundred would not have hurt him as much as having not stayed there until the very end to guide South Africa home, an act Klusener and Rhodes affected with ease eventually.
But truly speaking, had it not been for Jacques Kallis’ rescuing and inning-repairing act of 96, probably South Africa would not have made it home.
That he batted for 178 minutes goes on to show that even in his early days, he was an embodiment of pure concentration, a facet that continued to be a captivating element of his career until the very end.
As even in his final hurrah in 2013, Kallis batted for no fewer than 316 deliveries for his 113, that marked a supreme end to a career that inspired and entertained in equal measure.