CAPE TOWN, March 19 – Stand-in South African captain Jacques Kallis said Wednesday there were no tensions in the camp ahead of the third and final Test against Australia starting at Newlands on Thursday.
Kallis will lead the side in what has become a dead rubber game, with Australia 2-0 ahead, after a week of controversy.
Ashwell Prince was appointed captain in place of the injured Graeme Smith but the decision was overturned by Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola after discussing the issue with team management.
According to Kallis, there was no issue between him and Prince, who was appointed Test vice-captain at the beginning of the season but did not play in any of the five Tests against Australia after breaking a thumb before the first Test in Australia last December.
"I think he had his reasons and his views why he didn’t want it," said Kallis. "Obviously he was offered it first and he turned it down and then they phoned me and asked me if I would do it for one Test match.
"There’s no issue there. I’ve had a chat with him and there’s no problem. The guys respect his point of view and the fact that I’ve taken over as captain."
In any case, said Kallis, he was very much a caretaker captain, with Smith remaining with the team in the build-up to the game and likely to be in the dressing room during the match.
Responding to a reported jibe by Australian skipper Ricky Ponting that he was a "reluctant captain", Kallis admitted that being an all-rounder and captain was "probably the hardest job in the world."
But he said he was willing to do it on a one-off basis and that he was fortunate to have experienced players around him such as Mark Boucher and Hashim Amla, who had captaincy experience.
"I’m the type of captain that pretty much lets the team make the decisions," he said. "Obviously there are times when I’ve got to make the decisions but I let the guys get involved. It’s a tough job but I have enjoyed doing it in the past and I look forward to the challenge."
Kallis said reports of tensions in the camp were misplaced. "The guys have got together and we’ve had two good days of practice. There hasn’t been any tension in the camp and the guys get on pretty well with each other so I think that has been blown out of proportion."
Australian captain Ricky Ponting said his team were keen to maintain the standard they set in the first two Tests.
He said the fact that his players had enjoyed some time off after clinching the series in Durban last Tuesday would not affect their intensity or their readiness for the match.
"We’ve had those three or four days away but since we’ve been back together as a group everything has been focused on being as well-prepared as we can be for this game," he said.
Ponting said the emphasis in team meetings had been on looking ahead.
"One thing I don’t want to do is get too carried away by what we’ve achieved. We’ve won our last three Test matches in a row against South Africa. It’s important that we forget that but remember the things that have made us play at the level we have."
Ponting said batsman and part-time off-spinner Marcus North missed training Wednesday because of a gastric illness but he said he hoped the player would recover quickly as had been the case with several other members of the squad with similar ailments.
He said there had been some serious discussion about the possibility of playing a specialist spinner at Newlands but no decision had been reached.