Stephen Gelb July 31, 2008

Kallis King

Kallis’ real problem is that he hasn’t ‘marketed’ himself well

I owe Fox a response to his observations on South Africa (with which I largely agree). But first I must pay tribute to Jacque Kallis. Recently I’ve been on a private little ‘Kallis watch’ as he approached 235 Test wickets, Sobers’ mark. His 3/31 yesterday took him to 236.

Kallis passed Sobers’ 8032 career runs ages ago, and now he’s above him on the wickets table. So Kallis is officially the top allrounder in cricket history.

I hope I have your attention now. Let’s discuss.

Sobers’ record was 93 tests, 160 innings (21 n.o.), 8032 runs at 57.78 with 26 hundreds, 30 fifties, best 365*. His 235 wickets were at 34.03 runs each, one every 91.9 balls (surprisingly high), best 6/73, 109 catches.

Kallis to date: 122 tests, 205 innings (33 n.o), 9681 runs at 56.28, 30 hundreds, 47 fifties, best 189*, SR 43.9. Plus 236 wickets at 31.25, strike-rate 66.8 balls, best 6/54, and 127 catches. After 93 tests, Kallis had slightly fewer runs than Sobers – 7337 – and a lot fewer wickets – 189, but averaged 56.87 and 31.6.

Strikingly similar records. On the crude test of all-round ability – batting average minus bowling average – Kallis just shades it, 25.03 to 23.75, but they’re both way above all other contenders. Over such long careers, the numbers surely don’t lie. Kallis is as good as Sobers was.

Yet this is never acknowledged – Kallis seems as unloved amongst fans and ‘fundis’ alike as Sobers is loved and revered. His failings are repeated so often they’ve taken on the status of ‘facts’.

a. Cheap runs against minnows: Excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Kallis’ average drops, but only to 53.6. But look at Sobers through the same lens: excluding India, Pakistan and New Zealand (the minnows of the time), he drops to 53.1. (Even Bradman suffers, averaging ‘only’ 89.8 against England, his only non-minnow opposition.)

b. Shirks his bowling duties: It beats me how people know that Kallis is reluctant to bowl – I’ve never heard anything like this over a stump mike or from a commentator. Somehow the idea took root. For the record, his 21.7 overs per test as 5th bowler doesn’t compare too badly with, say, Flintoff’s 31.3 overs as 3rd or 4th bowler – only 5 overs per innings fewer. And since Kallis has also been SA’s batting mainstay almost from day one, one could argue that bowling him a little less has shown (surprisingly) good resource management by South Africa. Perhaps that is why he was able to bowl 15 overs today at age nearly 33.

c. Bats for himself, not the team, and is slow/boring: I have often been frustrated watching Kallis, especially in ODIs, just wanting him to get on with it. Yet his ODI strike rate is over 70 and one feels he has carried South Africa to victory with a few balls to spare innumerable time. He has 29 ‘Man of the Match’ awards in 274 matches. Ricky Ponting’s strike rate is 80 with 28 ‘Man of the Match’ awards in 301 matches.

But this is the main point: Kallis is not Ponting or Lara or Sehwag. He is not Viv Richards or Barry Richards or indeed Garry Sobers. He came into the South African team when ‘90 for 5’ was our all-too-regular scoreline. In his seventh Test, he had to bat all day against a full-strength Australian attack in Melbourne to save the match. This is how his playing personality was shaped. Kallis took the approach of Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid, the path of Steve Waugh, not Mark – eliminating risk, protecting his wicket, allowing others to bat freely by being ‘Mr Reliable’. Calling this selfish is to misunderstand the interplay that cricket imposes between team needs and personal goals. Calling it slow or boring is to ignore one of cricket’s delights, the inch-by-inch battle for domination, as different from the Lara or Sehwag approach as trench warfare is from mounted charges, but no less enthralling. Criticising Kallis for not batting like Lara is like criticising Thelonius Monk for not playing piano like Duke Ellington – it is beside the point.

Kallis’ real problem is that he hasn’t ‘marketed’ himself well. Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid are rightly revered for their role and contributions – but Kallis is Waugh together with Jason Gillespie in a single player, Dravid and Javagal Srinath rolled into one. He deserves his spot up there with Sobers.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 10, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    Clark is STILL ranked the 7th best Test boelwr IN THE WORLD despite only playing a couple of Tests over the last year yet hilditch and co obviously don't rate him in the top dozen in Australia.What a joke!! I know Clark isn't the future of Australian cricket, due to his age, and I know he's injured now anyway, but seriously, what has the guy done wrong!? PICK THE BEST SIDE YOU STOOGES!!!

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2008, 21:38 GMT

    Kallis is also a motivation in the dressing room. Everyone remembers the famous '438' Jo'burg ODI victory for SA, one that almost single-handedly revived interest in the sport around the globe. But very few people are aware of the fact that despite not playing,even Kallis had a hand in the win. When the SA players were sitting depressed in the dressing room after Aussies massacred through to 434 , he entered the room and joked " C'mon Guys, I reckon this is a 450 pitch , they've fallen 15 runs short" . He might have got incredulous looks then , but what happened later was something enough to bring anyone close to tears of boundless joy, to make anyone laugh and cry at the same time. It was the best ODI ever...

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2008, 21:28 GMT

    I agree wholeheartedly with you Stephen , I have always enjoyed watching Jacques Kallis bat. He has an awesome technique and is almost robotic in his shot-making.He is a terrific bowler, and can get valuable breakthroughs for his captain. One can't doubt his match winning abilities, as he showed in the Perth win today. Kallis can be aggressive too when required, as he took on the hapless Jason Krejza yesterday and smashed him for many runs towards the day end. I remember a match against New Zealand when around 24 runs were required of the last over (bowled by Kyle Mills, a competent bowler)and he almost pulled it off , in the end falling short by 2 runs. He is a top-class slip fielder as well and a very experienced campaigner who can come handy to a captain in need of advice.

  • testli5504537 on August 19, 2008, 5:48 GMT

    garry sobers and kallis in same class is like saying that anges frazer in same class as sir richard haddlee . kallis will never get to that level . don't go at numbers they r like mini-skirts they reveal more than they hide but hide the important thing . he is nevber choosen in any all time world 11 of test or odi cricket . his biggest weakness r as follows a - he hardly dominates attacks

    b - hardly does well vs quality bowlers

    c - not a big occasion player

    and last not the leat the best way as ian chappell says to judge a player/sportsman is ask the players who play against him .....ask guys of sobers era about sobey and than ask about akllis of this era , u ll get the answer

    kallis even in his dream can't even think of knock like 254

    even if kallis end at 14000test runs and 400 wi8ckets he ll remain lightyears behind the greatest cricket ever "garry sobers " ,

    flintoff on his day is far better/dangerous than him

  • testli5504537 on August 11, 2008, 19:01 GMT

    I rather think that when the full count is made, Jacques Kallis will be seen as one of the greatest and most consistent South African cricketers of all time. How many other teams today have a medium-fast second string strike bowler, who can be called on to - and does - take wickets, rather than just contain runs? There is not a batsman in the world who can afford to take Jacques Kallis lightly, much less relax when he is bowling, and likewise the world's leading bowlers when he is batting. It's about time that credit was given where credit is due.

  • testli5504537 on August 11, 2008, 10:09 GMT

    I'm a big fan of Kallis but i have to go with Sir Garfield Sobers. Sir Garfield Sobers was voted the second greatest cricketer of the 20th century. Kallis will certainly not be considered the greatest or second greatest cricketer of his generation let alone the entire century. He may not even be no.1 on S.A's list since readmission (Donald and Pollock may have something to say about that).

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 13:53 GMT

    All-rounders are a sexy lot, especially the pacers. They are the spark-plug of the team and are looked upon to 'make things happen' with either bat, ball or both.

    If one were to come up with an 'excitement index', then the great all-rounders of yore would fit the bill nicely. Sobers, Miller, Imran, Botham, Greig, Kapil etc.Somehow Kallis doesn't fit in with that lot.

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 6:05 GMT

    Kallis is not as good as Garry Sobers, of that there is no doubt. But there is no doubt that Kallis is the second greatest all-rounder of all time. To compare him with Michael Clarke is an insult to Kallis. Any who cannot realize that Kallis deserves to be remembered as a great are not cricket fans!

  • testli5504537 on August 3, 2008, 22:39 GMT

    I have just trawled the stats following my earlier comments on Kallis's 'red inkers' Kallis 1 in 6 is a * - Sobers 1 in 8. That will have had a significant effect on the comparison between averages. Another point on this one is the relative score total expectations then against now. Par for a day (with better over rates!) was 240 / 250.Now it is 300+. My money is also on better tracks and better bats now. Sobers' 50 average would be worth 10 or so more now. Heaven knows wher that puts Bradman!

  • testli5504537 on August 3, 2008, 22:20 GMT

    Kallis cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Sobers - much as Watson and Clarke cannot bear the same test. Great players are always allowed the luxury of 'playing for themselves' Kallis did this too much. For me, he would always have taken 100* and the draw rather than an agressive 60 and victory. I don't have the stats but would bet on him having a significant proportion of red inkers. Sobers was touched with genius (and heavily touched at that!)and played with his foot off the gas too often, however he did produce the genius and fitted the bill of champion. People crossed islands and even continents to watch Sobers and (oldies such as me) remember that. As for Jacques - I don't think I would have crossed the street. May seem harsh, but essentially he never put a fire in supporters hearts. There's a name missing here as all rounder even though his stats aren't in the same parish. Basil d'Oliveira - genius deprived by apartheid and a joy to watch.

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