When the IPL began, a lot of people including players and their agents, did not really know what to think. The sums offered for six weeks of "work", or 14 games of Twenty20 cricket, were mind-boggling, worth many times the national contracts that even senior players had signed with their boards.
In those days of conspicuous consumption, wads of dollar bills were just thrown at players, even those patently ill-suited to the format. A senior South African journalist has a great yarn about the day of the first IPL auction. He was working when his phone rang. The voice on the line belonged to Jacques Kallis's agent. "Guess where I am?" he said. "I'm on a yacht in Cape Town harbour. Jacques just sold for US$900,000 [Dh3.3 million]."
Eyebrows were raised when the Royal Challengers Bangalore spent that kind of money in a player not really renowned for his dynamism in the limited-overs arena. By the season's end, Kallis was being mentioned as one of the worst buys of the IPL, an example of the money-for-nothing attitude that some players had brought with them to India. His numbers were dismal - 199 runs in 11 games, and a strike-rate of just 108.74. The four wickets he took counted for little, with the opposition taking him for more than nine an over. With two years of a three-year deal left to run, it was clear that remedial measures were needed. Otherwise, the greatest all-rounder that the game has seen since Garfield Sobers was destined to be benched.
Kallis's woes in India also vindicated the selection panel that had left him out in the cold before the first World Twenty20 on home soil. Looking back, Kallis says that it was rejection's cold touch that prompted him to re-tool his game. "Two years ago, I was criticised and told that I couldn't play Twenty20," he says. "I went back and worked on my game. It's something I pride myself on." One of the catalysts for change was Duncan Fletcher, the architect of England's 2005 Ashes victory and a fellow Cape Town resident. "I've been working on my game for a year or two with him," says Kallis. "I wanted success in the T20 format. There have been one or two technical changes I've made but the key thing has been the mental adjustment. T20 is a format in which the risks and rewards are much higher. Thinking differently has freed me up to play more shots."
The benefits were apparent when the IPL shifted to South Africa last May. After a disastrous start under Kevin Pietersen's captaincy, Bangalore had hit rock-bottom by the time Anil Kumble took over. Rahul Dravid had returned to India for the birth of his second son. Kallis, as the team's remaining senior batsman, needed to step up. He did, with 361 runs in 15 games, though the strike-rate (108.73) was again nothing to shout about. He contributed six wickets too as the Royal Challengers went on a winning streak that took them all the way to a final that they lost by just six runs to the Deccan Chargers.
Part of the credit for the revival has to go to Kumble, whose performances on the field even after retirement from the international game demanded respect from his teammates, and to Ray Jennings, whose no-nonsense approach mirrored that of his captain. During his days as South Africa's coach, Jennings had clashed with several senior players and the Royal Challengers soon knew that no one would be given a free ride.
By the time Amit Mishra bowled him out for 27 last night, Kallis had scored 310 runs for the season being dismissed just twice. The strike-rate has been jazzed up (128.09) and he already has four wickets, including a spell that helped expose Yusuf Pathan's discomfort against the short ball. As he goes about justifying that lofty price tag at the age of 35, the former Wynberg Boys' star appears intent on proving that it is not necessarily a young man's game. With an auction scheduled for early next year, it should be plain sailing again for his agent.
Dileep Premachandran is the associate editor at Cricinfo and Asian cricket correspondent of The Guardian. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org