DURBAN (Reuters) - Jacques Kallis said he knew the time was right to quit the test arena as he bowed out after an 18-year career with victory over India at Kingsmead on Monday.
The 38-year-old all-rounder, regarded as South Africa's finest cricketer, scored a farewell century on Sunday to help his side to a 10-wicket win and a series triumph in the meeting between the two top-ranked test-playing nations.
His 115 in South Africa's first innings also took him into third place on the list of all-time test batsmen, with 13,289 runs from 166 tests, behind only Sachin Tendulkar (15,921 runs) and Ricky Ponting (13,378).
Kallis surprised many with his decision to quit, catching the cricketing world unawares on Christmas Day with a statement saying the second test against India would be his last but that he would continue in the limited overs format. Usually it has been the other way round for top players.
"It was a tough call but people say there comes a days when you wake up and you realise it is time to quit," he told reporters.
"I felt it was the right time and to finish it off in this manner has been incredible, the way the people have come out to support me, the way Cricket South Africa have made it a special game, my team mates have made it a special game. I couldn't have hoped for a better exit."
Kallis was lifted briefly on the shoulders of his team mates as he made a post-game lap of honour around Kingsmead, waving to the crowd and at one point stopping to down a can of beer.
All his South African team mates wore a tee-shirt with his picture on the front and inscribed on the back was: "The only player to score 10 00 runs and take 200 wickets in test cricket".
Later they posed for individual pictures with him in a mark of the esteem in which he is held.
It was fitting he departed in Durban on the same ground he where he started his test career in 1995.
"I sat here the day before the game and as I looked out over the field, I realised an nothing much has changed (in my 18-year test career). I've just got a little bit older. I still had the same butterflies and nerves."
Kallis was greeted before he went out to bat on Saturday with a guard of honour from the Indian fielders, similar to the one they produced for Sachin Tendulkar when he finished his test career against the West Indies last month.
"Thanks to the Indian team for that guard of honour, that was really special. I'm glad I wasn't facing immediately because it gave me a few seconds to gather my thoughts. It was a really emotional moment," he added.
Kallis shed a brief tear too on Sunday when he reached his 45th test century, a figure bettered only by Tendulkar's 51, a departure from his usually stoic and quiet demeanour.
"I suppose I'll miss the cricket, but mostly the friendships, the winning times and the tough times. All that goes on in the change room," he added.
Kallis now turns his focus to the limited-overs game, with his only remaining ambition being success in the one-day World Cup, where South Africa have often been among the favourites but picked up a tag of 'chokers' after several dramatic failures.
"I still have a lot of hunger to push South Africa to that World Cup in 2015 if I am fit and performing," he said.
Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ed Osmond