Allrounder, No. 6 - Jacques Kallis December 22, 2006

Sharing space with Sir Garry



The sky's the limit for Jacques Kallis, the batsman © Getty Images

South Africa's leading Test run scorer by the age of 30 with an average of 55.28 (8072 runs including 83 for a World XI) that places him amongst the top ten of all time amongst players with 5000+ runs, Jacques Kallis has established himself amongst the elite in world cricket - and there is plenty more to come.

Achievements
No batsman in the history of the game has surpassed 8000 runs without being universally regarded as a 'great' player. Some of the greatest bowlers of the last 100 years have barely managed to reach 200 Test wickets. And yet Kallis has done both.

Debates will always flourish on the subject of 'greatness' in cricket, and sport, but for some players the question is not whether they are great, but how great they are. In the case of Kallis, indeed, the question may well be: is he the greatest South Africa has seen?

Amongst all of his records and achievements, perhaps the most impressive is the one he alone shares with the man still regarded by most, 30 years after his last match, as the greatest allrounder ever, Sir Garfield Sobers.

They are the only men to have achieved the extraordinary 'double' of 8000 runs and 200 wickets in Test cricket. There is a third string to their bow, too. Both men have claimed over a century of Test catches.

How history views him
Nobody, it seems, has a critical word to say about Kallis's technique, determination or concentration. He is very good indeed, by popular acclaim. But that's the problem. Most people have a 'but' and, for most people, the 'but' is that there should be more; more attack and more of a killer instinct.

"Jacques is a very special cricketer, there is nobody who surpasses him. Whenever I bowled to him he was class personified. He has an unbelievable reputation and he will become even greater. But surely he can dominate more," says Allan Donald.

"It has nothing to do with a lack of mental toughness or physical strength. All he needs is a change of gear - he has the ability to dominate," Donald says.

Far from being a negative criticism, Donald's is merely an observation which is borne from a profound desire to see Kallis fulfil his matchwinning potential. It is hard to deny that for much of his magnificent career, Kallis has given the impression that he is batting within himself.

" I have no desire to criticise Jacques because he is a great player," says Barry Richards, the most outspoken of those to say Kallis doesn't dominate as much as he should. "I'm only saying that he won't be remembered in the way his talent deserves until he starts winning games, not just making them safe. He has the talent to do it. But every now and then the opportunity comes along to step up the pace and he doesn't do it."

Kallis himself takes the point affably. "They can say what they like about me, honestly, I just don't care. Not in the slightest. I've realised what works for me and I'm going to keep on playing to my strengths. I've been batting this way for a long time now. I have become more dominant in recent years and the aim now is to build on that," he says with a weary smile.

What makes him special
"He plays orthodox, good cricket. He was taught well and coached well, and has the cricket brain to keep improving as bowlers started to work out where his strengths were. He has no weaknesses, is technically correct off the front and back foot, and plays so straight because he has a high left elbow which keeps the bat dead straight," says Geoffrey Boycott.

Whereas Sobers was loved by his public, Kallis is respected. Whereas Sobers put bums on seats with his dashing flair, Kallis inspires a warm feeling of security amongst South African audiences. 'It'll be OK if Jacques is still there.'

Kallis, it would appear, suffered from the disparity between what cricketers strive to achieve and what the public want to see. Consistency is the players' Holy Grail while entertainment, preferably of the swashbuckling variety, is what the man in the stand wants for his money. Yet, as every cricketer will tell you (and will be supported by the more discerning supporter), the fun stuff isn't possible without the hard graft. As the progression of Kallis' career shows, he achieved at least as much consistency with the bat as anyone else of his generation, including all of the world's 'greats' - Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Yousuf and Ricky Ponting. But how many wickets have they taken, between them?



Kallis has the rare 'double' of 8000 runs and 200 wickets in Tests © AFP

Finest hour
It is temptingly obvious to name his prolific run of centuries - five in as many tests - but that would be to ignore the genuinely 'allround' contributions in favour of his stronger suit. Nonetheless, only Don Bradman's six hundreds in consecutive Tests can surpass that streak. Four consecutive hundreds against the West Indies on home soil were followed by an innings of 92 in his next Test against New Zealand, in Hamilton, which ended sickeningly with a top-edged hook to fine leg. "I thought my chance was gone with the match heading for a draw," he admitted afterwards.

But the second innings witnessed an unbeaten knock of 150 that made the game safe and he almost matched the Don in Auckland producing innings of 40 and 71. In the New Year Test against the West Indies in 1999, on his home ground of Newlands, history beckoned. Having scored 110 in the first innings, Kallis was 75 not out at lunch on the fourth day and beautifully set for a second century in the match. Captain Hansie Cronje revelled in the history of the game and gave him an extra hour to reach the landmark. He even extended the deadline by a few minutes in the hope that Kallis might burst into life, but he did not and was left 88 not out when the captain called his men in. With Allan Donald injured and unable to bowl in the second innings Kallis took the new ball and rose to the occasion with an inspired return of 5-90 and became just the eighth man to score a century, a fifty and take five wickets in the same Test. He would have been the first to score two hundreds and take five wickets, a feat beyond even Sobers. But perhaps he really didn't care about records. South Africa won the match easily.

Achilles heel
Although he has almost completely recovered from the condition these days, Kallis suffered for the majority of his international career - through no fault of his own - from 'averageitis'.

Having barely recovered from the hangover sustained after the euphoria of returning to international cricket, South Africa's public and media were obsessed with measuring the country's cricketers against those from other countries. Test caps, test hundreds, test wickets and, above all, test averages. Australia had five batsmen averaging 40+, 300 caps and 40+ centuries when Kallis debuted. South Africa had about half a dozen. After seven starts in Test cricket he had accumulated 57 runs at an average of 8.14. And every time it was mentioned or written, he winced. Kallis wasn't the only batsman determined to break through the 40- barrier but he was, perhaps, the only one to become fixated with the task as a result of the media hype.

After 20 Tests he averaged 31.73. After 40 Tests he had broken through the 'barrier' - 43.49. After 60 Tests it was 47.27. But the cricket world was changing, rapidly, and an average of 45 was becoming far more common. The new benchmark, set by Tendulkar, was 50 and there was no stopping Kallis. After 80 Tests the magic number was 53.75 and after he had earned his 100th Test cap against New Zealand at Centurion, it was 56.31.

But it is only when you divide his career in half that you realise just what a force he became.

In his first 50 Tests he scored 2952 runs at an average of 41 with seven centuries. In his next 50, starting in September 2001, he scored 4988 runs at an average of 72.28 with seventeen centuries. Not many people in the world could live with that record.

Some would argue that being motivated by his batting average was his strength rather than his Achilles heel. And perhaps they are right.

Life after cricket
Henry Kallis looked after his two children well. The premature death of Jacques and Janine's mother, Mercia, made life hard for father and children but the discipline and values he instilled in them will last the rest of their lives.

Jacques started the Jacques Kallis Scholarship Foundation with the entire proceeds of his 2004 Benefit Year and by his 30th birthday he had already been responsible for the education, at several of the country's top schools, of a dozen promising young cricketers from poor and under-priviledged backgrounds.

Having partly learnt and partly inherited the wisdom his father had after a career at investment bank Old Mutual, Kallis has a property development company with great friend Mark Boucher and a portfolio of business interests most cricketers could only dream of.

Having missed his mother for most of his life, and having a strong sense and belief in the values of family life, he seems a prime candidate to settle down with a beautiful wife and have at least four children when his cricketing days are over. As long as he is still permitted to indulge in his other great passion - golf.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency

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