Opinion: Kallis and the value of the veteran

Australia

South Africa veteran Jacques Kallis was signed by the Sydney Thunder for the Big Bash League, and former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting commented that he'd retired two years too late. 'Is Kallis making the same mistake?' was the immediate thought.

There were two short, seemingly unimportant, cricket news stories recently that got the old brain working a bit, in a way that 140 characters and increasingly snarky Twitter interactions have somewhat blunted.

South Africa veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis was signed by the Sydney Thunder for the Big Bash League, and former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting commented that he'd retired two years too late. 'Is Kallis making the same mistake?' was the immediate thought.

While Kallis, at the age of nearly 39, is aiming to play for the Proteas at the ODI World Cup next year, having not played international cricket at all this year, Ponting pondered: "I probably played two years longer than I should have done. I think I knew in myself that I couldn't get better."

But then Ponting said this: "I wasn't playing for me, I was playing for the younger guys in the team. Great teams that I played in had a really good solid core of experienced players and great characters."

And then Kallis' decision to sign on for two years of the Big Bash (national ambitions aside) did not seem like the worst idea. In fact, added to the Kolkata Knight Riders owner calling him the 'heart and soul' of the team, it seemed like a very good move indeed.

Here's why. Kallis, as anyone who knows anything about cricket will tell you, is a great of the game, the best all-rounder of recent times, and a quiet, calm presence in the teams he plays in. He provides gravitas and experience that cannot be overlooked.

His time with Kolkata, the eventual IPL winners, was not his best. He started off well, with scores of 72 and 43, but then failed in his next five matches. KKR were suffering as a result, and he knew this so he, so the story goes, dropped himself for the good of the side.

A more arrogant player would have kept going, but Kallis saw he was going more harm than good in the middle, so he opted to help out behind the scenes, and therein lies his value for the Thunder. His mentorship and de facto coaching role will be his most valuable contribution.

The same could be said for Ponting when he was with Mumbai last season, alongside Sachin Tendulkar. As a batting pair ('Pondulkar', good grief) they failed, but one can be assured that their presence in the side helped the young local players up their games, wanting to impress men they saw as gods.

Imagine being a young Indian or Aussie player, arriving at the nets to find Kallis working on his still-dreamy cover drive. That beautifully high elbow, the balance, the head over the front leg. And then Jakes comes over to give you a few tips.

Aside from his textbook technique, Kallis can offer the advice young players need about life on the road, the temptations of fame and fortune, and the 'Dark Forces' draw of the bookie behind the shed. He has never been implicated in illegal dealings, and is a role model in that regard.

This experience is probably a large reason why teams sign Kallis, Mike Hussey, Virender Sehwag and the like. Their runs are valuable, but they don't become irrelevant on the sidelines, as many a quote from young IPL players can attest.

This is all, of course, conjecture. Kallis might not offer any advice at all, opting to play his X-Box or Skype with his missus when not in the nets. But that seems a stretch, given what we know of him. His value goes beyond what he does in the middle.

<b>Lindsay du Plessis</b>

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