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Refocused Kallis making merry

February 06, 2004 14:48 IST

Jacques Kallis is a far cry from the sorrowful, soul-searching cricketer who struggled to live up to his own expectations in 2003.

Personal sadness and patchy form combined to make the year a trial for the allrounder.

But now a phenomenal run of form against West Indies has earned Kallis the highest praise from Brian Lara and put him into the record books as the first South African to score hundreds in four consecutive Test matches.

The change in Kallis owes much to his work with Paddy Upton, who for five years in the 1990s was the South African national team biokineticist -- a specialist exercise therapist.

When Kallis found his form dipping, he turned not to the nets and a bowling machine but to Upton, who had recently completed a masters degree in sports psychology at an English university and was convinced he could help Kallis in a role he defined as 'executive coaching'.

"In coaching Jacques I neither instruct nor advise but rather allow him to find the answers for himself," said Upton. "We scrutinised his (internal) value system and compared that to what he was doing 'out there'.

"Where there was compromise, things generally weren't working. With increased awareness he has more choice to make changes where he finds that he is selling himself short."

BETTER CHOICES

Both men are aware they risk being accused of new-age psycho-babble but no-one can argue with the results. Neither Kallis nor Upton are pretentious types, and the player himself noticed a change as soon as he started working with his new advisor.

"Working with Paddy I think I found the missing something," says Kallis. "As I have learned more about myself, I am able to make better choices more often. More importantly, I was able to more finely tune my ball-by-ball focus while batting. The results were immediate."

In four Tests against West Indies in December and January, Kallis scored a century in each game and amassed 712 runs at an average of 178 as South Africa won the series 3-0.

Kallis then carried his form into the one-day game, in which he scored a career-best 139 at the Wanderers on Wednesday as South Africa successfully chased 305 to condemn the West Indians to a 3-1 series defeat.

This time he averaged 180.50 over five innings, with two centuries as well as an undefeated 95.

Last year's struggles included a gruelling tour of England. Kallis was already acclaimed as the finest all-rounder in the world, but his form was inconsistent and his private life an even sterner challenge.

"2003 was a challenging year for me," Kallis said. "I lost my father and broke up with a long-term girlfriend in a very short space of time, was trying to set up a home between travels and had gone some time without a hundred.

"I guess what I was looking for was to gain some balance between my personal and sporting lives."

PUBLIC GESTURE

At the time, Kallis dealt with the loss of his father with a very public gesture, choosing to wear the number 65 -- his father Henry's age -- on his shirt during the one-day series in England.

Kallis was a supremely gifted cricketer before he turned to Upton but would often frustrate his team mates, his coach Eric Simons and his fans when an innings would drift to the point where bowlers regained their self belief.

That has changed. There can surely be no more dispirited bowling attack in cricket right now than the West Indies, whom Kallis often treated with murderous disdain through a spell of merry accumulation. With the addition of 712 runs and just four dismissals against his name, his Test average is now 53.26.

"He was awesome," West Indies captain Lara admitted. "When he got out I went up to him and told him it was the greatest batting in a series I've ever experienced, for or against."

Observers have noticed a change in the burly Kallis. He was always well-mannered, with a smile and nod of acknowledgment to those who greeted him, but there is now a warmth in him that was previously glimpsed only occasionally.

At the age of 28, and with his best years probably ahead of him, Kallis, it seems, has come to accept that his talent still promises more.

Marcus Prior
Source:
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