Sparkling Kallis sets a shining example
If anybody was in any doubt that T20 cricket is taking over the game, they need only cast their minds forward to the next two months when the sugar-coated mini-version will dominate the cricket-playing world in a way that not even the Indian Premier League (IPL) has managed. Advocates of an eight-week "window" in the international calendar every year have not realised it has already arrived.
Apart from South Africa's three games against England, India will be playing New Zealand and Australia are taking on Pakistan at close to midnight to avoid the desert heat in Dubai. They are all planned as precursors to the T20 World Cup, which starts in Sri Lanka on September 18.
Following that, with no time to return home for a change of clothing, let alone a change of mind or attitude, the majority of the world's best players will head directly to South Africa to play in the "domestic" Champions League, including the best 12 teams from every Test-playing nation, except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Four IPL teams are included this year and they will be supplemented by the domestic finalists from Australia, South Africa and England, and the champions from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies.
But first things first. When Gary Kirsten took over as national coach, it is fair to say that he perused the International Cricket Council's future tours programme with several differently coloured highlighter pens. As much as he loves Test cricket and as highly as he values tours of the great Test playing nations – Australia, India and England – the brightest coloured pen was reserved for the tournaments marked "International Cricket Council event".
For as much as his countrymen and women share his delight over winning Test matches, he is all too aware of their desire to see silverware with the word "world" inscribed on it. His cricketing instincts may tell him that such titles do not fairly or adequately reflect the quality of a team, but all his other instincts suggest that it is all that matters. Do not mind what he or his players say in the build-up to Sri Lanka – he has been working on and planning towards it from day one. In red – for "alert!"
The most formidable aspect of winning this T20 tournament is not the cricket itself but the fact that a core of players will have been on the road for almost a quarter of a year by the time it kicks off. It will be well over three months if they reach the final. That is an awfully long time for AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Morné Morkel, Dale Steyn, Robin Peterson and Hashim Amla to spend away from the spiritually comforting familiarity of home. Even single men, believe it or not, eventually become worn down by life on the road.
You would not believe how irritating an early-morning knock on the door from housekeeping can become unless you have experienced it, let alone the hour it takes for room service to deliver a toasted sandwich.
Attention will understandably be drawn to the changes in playing staff, particularly T20 poster boy Richard Levi, whose life has been more profoundly changed by a single innings than anyone else in the history of the game.
Less attention will be paid, equally understandably, to the Proteas "back room" team, and it is exactly that – a team of XI. They are older and mostly wiser than the players, which means they also have wives and families and bonds and school committees to worry about. And they are paid considerably less than the people they look after.
Touring the world playing cricket? Phah! What could be easier than that?
The example set by the management team and by the hard core of the players has an immediate effect on the rest of the squad, no matter how fresh and enthusiastic they are. Mental freshness lies at the very heart of Kirsten's coaching philosophy. In fact, the constant pursuit of it and the degree of importance attached to it could be described as his secret. No previous or current cricket coach has ever afforded, or been allowed to afford, such significance to the desire of a player to perform. The moment it becomes a job, Kirsten says, is the moment you stop performing at your best.
Jacques Kallis rejoined the tour several days ago fresher than anyone can ever recall seeing him. Rested for the one day international segment, the great all-rounder visited his partner who is working in New York. He may not have batted and bowled, but he certainly did not just sit around with his feet up either. In fact, Kallis was positively energised by something so simple that most of us take it for granted every day of our lives – anonymity.
There will be precious little of that for him in England next week and Sri Lanka thereafter, but if he can spread among the squad – the players and management – a little of the boyish enthusiasm with which he returned from the Big Apple, he could make as much of a difference as any number of runs and wickets.