South Africa's two greatest cricketers
From Adam Wakefield, Australia
Cricket, as a sport, has a habit of indulging itself in its own legend. Players are elevated above mere mortal status to something divine, something Bradmanesque as it were, where their influence on the game goes way beyond the boundary ropes of their personal selves.
South Africa is no stranger to such musings. One name especially stands out as the man who inspired those in South Africa as Tendulkar does today in India. Graeme Pollock is his name, a player recognised internationally as one of the best batsmen to ever play the game. He had the second highest Test average (of those who had scored more than 2000 Test runs). He used to hold the record for the highest score by a South African and is part of the Pollock dynasty that has given so much to the South African cause over the years.
Today, South Africa has yet another cricketer who should be classed in Pollock's elite company. Jacques Kallis has never felt the full affection of the South African public, for reasons ranging from being perceived as aloof at the crease to batting to slowly. For one reason or another, Kallis never received the praise that he deserved, and only now, as the twilight of his career approaches, are South Africans waking up to how good he really is, and how much a hole he is going to leave in their national side when he eventually hangs up his well worn boots.
Kallis made his debut when Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock were still figuring out how best to work together, Hansie Cronje was captain and Dave Richardson wicketkeeper. He is a physical embodiment of South Africa's cricket history after re-admission, just by being there most of the time in person. He, along with Mark Boucher, are the last of that generation of cricketers in the 1990s who were tasked with forging South Africa's image in the world game.
Greatness is always difficult if not near impossible to see at the passing moment. In the present, we lack the foresight which allows us to put an individual’s achievements in context. Once put in context however, and weighed against the deeds of his or her peers, only then is it plausible to label a player 'a great'. Kallis' achievements are so immense, and his way of playing the game so pure (technically speaking), that along with Tendulkar and Ponting, will be canonized as a saint of the modern game, a man who batted in a way which survived the Test of time.
The reasons Kallis and Tendulkar have been able to continue excelling to a level even past most of their younger contemporaries is because their techniques allow them to do so. Even when they have struggled, as both have done at times in their distinguished careers, their technique has gotten them through. The fact Tendulkar and Kallis were the leading run getters in the recently concluded series between their two sides, in conditions toda in the most part, underlines this fact.
Kallis has also disproved the old adage that he bats at too slow a pace. He recently scored his quickest Test century, and has upped his strike rate in the five-day format significantly. And being selfish? If it weren't for his efforts in Cape Town, South Africa would have lost the series. Harbhajan Singh, known as a fiery character but not one to shy away from expressing himself, told media before the final day in Cape Town that he hadn't seen many bat like Kallis did that day. King Kallis, as he is known at Newlands, put on a batting masterclass which will be seen as one of his better Test innings.
He further sealed his reputation by scoring his maiden double-hundred at Centurion, an achievement which in some weird way finally ensures his transition from very good to great. When Jacques Kallis comes to the crease, South Africa breathes a sigh of relief. He has been the ultimate fire-fighter, assassin and strangler for them for 15 years, and he still has a couple more seasons in his body. But when he does eventually decide to go, at the moment he walks off Newlands (it will be there) for that final time, that is when we will feel his absence, a feeling as powerful as sadness, happiness and fear. By George we are going to miss him. He has earned our affections hundreds of times over, and is finally getting the admiration he deserves.
Graeme Pollock and Jacques Kallis are the greatest cricketers South Africa has ever produced. It's simple as that.