Jacques Kallis is, without a doubt, the best cricketer to ever play for South Africa. He bats, he bowls, he fields in the slips and his wealth of experience is something that cannot simply be replaced at the drop of a hat.
The year 2013 has been far from Kallis' best, though. In the seven Tests he has played this year, he averages just 17.63 with the bat. That's his lowest average ever in a year where he played five Tests or more. It's the first time ever he has averaged under 20.00 (min five Tests). He has scored just 194 runs, and although he got a dodgy decision to get out in the second innings of the first Test against India, he hasn't quite looked comfortable.
He has played his part with the ball and in the slips, though, and was particularly handy in the first Test against India. With Morne Morkel unable to bowl due to injury, Kallis upped his workload. He picked up three wickets in the absence of Morkel.
The problem with Kallis bowling at this stage of his career is that he is then required to move down the batting order. Although it wasn't a problem for Faf du Plessis to take up the No. 4 spot. With the current way Kallis is managed, it is perhaps something that players expect, and shifting batting roles is something players have become accustomed to. As long as it doesn't become a permanent arrangement, it's not too much of a worry for the harmony of the team.
Kallis' bowling has been declining steadily since 2008. Although he has always contributed, his average has been high and his contribution in terms of picking up wickets has sometimes been underwhelming. Part of that reason is, perhaps, that he has not been required to bowl all that much and his batting has been a far more important focus than his bowling. Nonetheless, there have been some blips.
Jacques Kallis year-by-year breakdown 2008 to 2013
To judge the colossus of Kallis purely on statistics would be foolish. Dips in form are part and parcel of the game. All players go through bad spells, it's normal and it's not the first time it's happened to Kallis either. He previously had a relatively poor spell with his batting. From November 9, 2011 to January 2012, he managed just one half-century in seven innings and was dismissed for a duck thrice in the same period.
He responded with a double century against Sri Lanka during the New Year's Test match in January.
His current run of bad form is not too dissimilar to that bad spell back in 2011-12. In 11 innings he has managed two fifties and has managed double figures just four times. It's not the worst year, and while it would be easy to call for a younger player to slot into the team, it's not quite that simple.
In the context of things, Kallis is to South African cricket what Sachin Tendulkar is to Indian cricket. Any other player with such struggles for form would have been given the axe long ago, but Kallis is far more important than that. Being the selector to make that decision isn't only difficult in terms of sentiment, dropping him also creates a real selection conundrum for the Proteas as his bowling, even though it's not breaking records as a standalone, is of crucial value for the side.
Where South Africa does have the advantage is with AB de Villiers keeping wicket as well as being such an apt batsman. As long as de Villiers has the gloves, it allows South Africa the luxury of playing an additional bowler, who can bat a bit, instead.
When looked at from a purely statistical perspective and keeping in mind that a revitalised Australian side will be heading to South Africa next year, perhaps selectors should start giving thought to a Kallis replacement, especially if he fails to perform in the second Test against India.
When all things are considered, though—from his overall value to the team to his experience and the fact that blips are commonplace—dropping Kallis is not even a consideration at this point in time. South Africa haven't shown an indication of preparing for it either. There is no clear successor, there is not even somebody who is being groomed as the apt-bowler who can contribute with the bat when it is needed.
Yes, Kallis needs a big performance for South Africa and he needs one soon. But when Australia come knocking next year there is surely nobody else they would like in the side than the man who has scored five hundreds and 10 fifties against them.
For the short term, Kallis' worth in the team is still tremendous, and there is nobody who can comfortably slot into the side to ensure the Proteas keep the fine balance they currently have.
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