Shattering the Kalu myth
Nostalgia can indeed be a seductive mistress, can she not? Watching Sri Lanka dismantling the Australian bowling attack in Sydney tonight, I heard Tony Greig waxing lyrical about the feats of Romesh Kaluwitharana in the 1996 World Cup. Greig's insinuation was that Kalu's breathtaking innings at the top of the order in that tournament were the catalyst for the new style of opening in ODIs. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that Kalu set the world alight and got Sri Lanka off to some amazing starts, but my distant memory forced me to check the facts.
Truth is, Kalu actually had a pretty average World Cup as a batsman. His scores, listed here as runs/balls faced, were: 0/1, 26/16, 33/18, 8/3, 0/1, 6/13.
They certainly weren't slow starts but, apart from the 33 against Kenya, his contributions could hardly be considered significant. It's easy to remember him as that explosive little stick of dynamite but if you actually look at his scores during that season, even leading into the World Cup, the numbers tell a very different story.
It seems the Kalu legend was born in the Benson & Hedges Series in Australia, a few months before that World Cup. He made three half-centuries in that series, but when you actually look at those games his strike-rate was not that high. Not as high as the legend suggests anyway. Here are his runs/balls faced stats: 8/21, 0/4, 8/14, 0/1, 77/75, 20/27, 50/54, 74/68, 13/9, 0/1.
Even the three significant scores he made were virtually at a run-a-ball, a far cry from the sort of strike-rates that we are now accustomed to in the modern game. Admittedly, in that era, the boundaries were long and the cricket bats not that powerful, but I still maintain that the Kaluwitharana myth has grown despite the reality.
Don't get me wrong, I loved watching him bat. I'm not knocking the bloke. My point is that despite the hype and awe that his name evokes, the truth is that he wasn't quite the "excitement machine" that Michael Slater described him as when he was responding to Tony Greig's comments about Kalu. In 102 ODIs, his strike-rate was 77.70 and his average was 22.20.
It's almost the reverse of the point I made about Jacques Kallis in my piece a few weeks ago. Kallis is one of those cricketers whose numbers are phenomenal but he never quite gets the international acclaim. He averages 45.55 at a strike-rate of 72.96 in his long ODI career. Yet we'd never describe him as an excitement machine.
Even Slater himself, fondly remembered as a swashbuckling strokeplayer, had an ODI average of 24.07 with a strike-rate of 60.40. Mark Taylor, stodgy in comparison to Slater, had a strike-rate of 59.46. Wonder why it is that we seem to remember players in different ways, despite the facts suggesting that there wasn't much to separate them really?
Let's think of someone like David Warner, a thrashing machine if ever there was one. He averages 20.07 in ODIs with a strike rate of 78.71. I expected his strike-rate to be much higher than that I must confess. Perhaps the true test will be at the end of his career when he has had time to carve out some consistency; but for a bloke who strikes at 142.00 in Twenty20 internationals, he just can't seem to get close to that in the 50-over format, despite having four more Powerplay overs at his disposal. Curious....
I'd love to hear your contributions to this debate. Can you think of any cricketers who have a reputation that doesn't quite match the cold hard facts? Kalu is certainly one such player; his reputation seems to have been forged on the back of his stunning Test match debut against Australia. I remember Allan Border describing that innings to me; he seemed to suggest that for those few hours that Kalu unleashed his magic the Aussies were wondering if this was the next Don Bradman, such was his amazing strokeplay. What a shame he didn't repeat that again in his short and 'explosive' career. There we go again with adjectives that don't quite fit reality!
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane