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January 29, 2013

West Indies cricket

A look at the Kallis-Sobers debate

Samir Chopra
Garry Sobers bats for the Rest of the World side against England
Frozen in time: Sir Garry's classicism elevated cricketing aesthetic  © PA Photos
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In today's post, I want to continue on a thread commenced in my last post by considering, in light of the visual appearance of cricket, a contemporary debate about the game's greatest allrounder.

The Jacques Kallis versus Garfield Sobers comparison and evaluation is guaranteed to draw sharply contrasting reactions from most cricket fans. For some, Sir Garry remains peerless; for yet others, Kallis' staggering statistical feats, his batting at No.3, his catching, his value to South African cricket, his contributions to their rise to the top demand recognition and proper assessment.

Kallis will always come off second best in this argument. This is not because I think he is any less of a cricketer than Sir Garry. It's not because I think he is a 'boring bat' who does not perform well in clutch situations, who does not have the strokes Sir Garry had, who took too long to score his first double-hundred, or whatever your favourite canard about Kallis is. Rather, it is because I suspect the dominant imagery of Sir Garry will always swamp that of Kallis.

When we think of Kallis, we think of a burly, muscular, almost impossibly broad-chested man, sometimes clad in helmet and all the clumsy accoutrements of the modern batsman, sometimes running into bowl with a utilitarian action that is surprising precisely because we do not associate the pace he generates with it. Kallis seems heavy, not graceful, functional, not effortless in both his batting and bowling. He perhaps comes closest to gracefulness in his deft catching at slip.

In contrast, when we think of Sir Garry, we think of a slim, lissome cricketer, wearing full sleeve shirts, with sleeves rolled up in classic displays of insouciance, sometimes bare-headed, sometimes wearing a West Indies cap, collars high, moving lightly on his feet, driving the cricket ball with loose-limbed grace, his bat describing vivid arcs of motion that showcase his power and timing.

Let's face it: Garry Sobers just looked better than Jacques Kallis, and always will. His feats are frozen in time, in classic black-and-white photographs; Kallis has been subjected to the unflattering focus of hundreds of hours of live television coverage. Sir Garry is always wearing classic creams and flannels and team sweaters; Kallis has worn the ugly uniforms of one-day international cricket and the IPL. Sir Garry is one smooth operator; Kallis is stodgy in comparison.

I do not intend to denigrate Kallis in any way. He is the most amazing all-round cricketer around these days, and I still cannot believe he has done all he has while batting at No. 3. I merely mean to indicate that when cricket fans compare Kallis to Sobers they have the visual aspects of the two, front and centre. Many fans will say that statistics do not tell the full story and then go on to fill it out by talking of clutch situations and entertainment value. Part of that entertainment value is how the cricketer looks, how much pleasure he provides to our hungry gaze.

Sir Garry was, to put it as bluntly as possible, a beautiful cricketer: he moved with economy and style, he batted with gay abandon in his best moments, he bowled in several styles, with each bowling action a pleasure to look at, he held catches effortlessly, and through it all, he handed out a few sartorial lessons too. If you wanted a hero, he was your man in all the relevant ways.

Kallis can be a hero too, but of another kind; he will feature in paeans to diligence and effort and patience. He is admirable too, but in another dimension. And because so much of our relationship to the game and our assessment of its exponents is tinged with our aesthetic response to them, Kallis will not appeal to us in quite the same way, even when we can do little else but doff our hats to him for his wonderful cricketing abilities and match-winning ways.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by mo on (February 10, 2013, 10:57 GMT)

@BOLL - mate, how can you say sobers is better bowler than kallis. "Sobers finished in the Top 10 every year but one between 1962-1973, Kallis has finished in the Top 10 once in his career (2002)." sobers has a stike rate of over 91 & an average of over 34. How can you even compare the 2 as bowlers? Someone with that avaerage & strike rate would not get into any of the top sides today as a bowler alone wheras Kallis wouldve got into most sides in the world as just a bowler for almost all of his unfinished yet career. Who are we comparing Sobers to on the bowling front? With Kallis we have had warne,murali,kumble,ajmal,donald,pollock,vaas,mgrath,gillespie,steyn,morkel,zaheer,philander,aktar,bond,gul to name but a few!!!

If Sobers finished in the top 10 so many times it just means the standard of bowlers at that time were much lower & on top of that means the bowlers bowling to Sobers in general were of a lower standard than bowlers Kallis faced in his career.

Posted by Sunil on (February 5, 2013, 20:08 GMT)

Why compare Apple and Orange. They both are great fruits in their own ways. Both serve their purpose and make the life beautiful for the people who enjoy them. Old vs New...It'll always be good old days no matter how terrible they were.

Posted by jimmy on (February 2, 2013, 18:56 GMT)

@Engle. Inane comment with no facts to back it up. Just a statement meaning nothing.

Posted by Engle on (February 2, 2013, 3:37 GMT)

@Warren What you have to understand is that if there is a need to validate or argue a players greatness, then that player simply is not a great. There are too many posts arguing for Kallis whereas Sobers was naturally bestowed with the mantle of greatness, brooking no argument.

Posted by jimmy on (February 1, 2013, 19:53 GMT)

@Chris. Sobers as a spinner trumps Kallis? Take a couple of aspirin and have a good lie down. The stats do not lie - Sobers was a mediocre test bowler - and his spin was worse than his medium pace.Josh has done a great job of proper analysis. I checked the stats and, in fact, if you go by a match by match analysis then Kallis looks even better! Kallis is by far the best, then daylight. I would not even rate Sobers as the 2nd best all rounder. I believe that would be Imran Kahn.As I write this I see Kallis has hit 50 off 78 balls against Pakistan while all the batsman fell around him. Playing for his side not himself.He has done that many, many times.Quite a strike rate as Josh has pointed out. @Beverley. Josh was replying to your point on entertaining. Like Josh, I watched Sobers many times but believe me Kallis was very entertaining in tests in England! And, as Josh proves, you got to see more ENTERTAINING boundaries from Kallis and a lot more running between wickets by Sobers.

Posted by Warren on (February 1, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

@ Beverly Since when does a personality a prerequisite for being a great?!? A South African takes as much joy seeing a Kallis boundary as a West Indian fan seeing a boundary from Sobers. As for excitement lets remember that Bradman only hit 4 sixes in his entire test career and played most of his cricket against the boring Poms!!!

The problem all the nay sayers have is he isn't their's but I assure you he is loved and adored by his fans. Those who know Kallis (which 10 out of 10 of his critics don't) know that he is an introvert. As in all life you have your extroverts and introverts but to imply that being an extrovert is a necisity for being labelled a "great" is ludicrous. In closing I think the greatest compliment to Kallis is that his critics feel the need to defend his record against their favorites. It's his record that causes it, that causes this blog, that brought us to this point and it is his record that is better than Sobers. Case closed

Posted by chris on (February 1, 2013, 1:38 GMT)

Perhaps we could look at this from another perspective: An all-time X1. One assumes that The Don is a shoe-in, so that leaves 2 middle order slots to be filled by the likes of Pollock,Lara(my choices),SRT, Sir Viv or Hammond. A bowling attack of 3 pacemen and a spinner leaves us to choose an allrounder to act as 4th seamer,a role that both Kallis and Sobers can perform, whereas only Sobers can be used as a complement to the main spinner. I rest my case. Then again,they could both be accomodated by leaving out one of the middle order batsmen.

Posted by Josh on (January 31, 2013, 19:35 GMT)

Now there are comments on all rounders as some sort of show biz stars! If you want to see a show go to the theatre. We are talking cricket. Someone based their argument on the basis of what could Kallis do that Sobers could not? Bowl very much better is an immediate answer. Score more fours and sixes is another. What really depresses me is the number who just repeat the bias from old time commentators as fact. I saw Sobers play on at least 50 to 100 occasions. My observations are based on objective analysis not parroting what some other person said.Just because they keep saying it does not make it true. There have been many great all rounders who were not compared because of the shortness of their test careers e.g. Mike Proctor. Clive Rice may have gone on to become the greatest ever but never played a test! South Africa seems to produce many more great all rounders than any other country. I also rate Graeme Pollock as the second best batsman I ever saw play the game. Bradman was best.

Posted by Cliff on (January 31, 2013, 15:14 GMT)

Basically put-Kallis is one of the top 5 cricketers to ever play the game! Batting average higher than Sachin, Ponting or Lara & ranks close to the best of all time & he's played over 150 tests! And that's based on batting alone! When you add in his bowling and catching then we have an all time great! Fact!

Posted by Beverly on (January 31, 2013, 14:02 GMT)

Cont'd: Apart from my theory above, some of the other questions to ask are: (i)"What is it as a cricket all rounder that Kallis could do, at an acceptable level in test cricket, that Sobers could not have done"? The unanimous and resounding answer is "Nothing"!(ii) "What is it as a cricket all rounder that Sobers could have done and Kallis cannot do at an acceptable level in test cricket"? The unanimous and resounding answer is just a "few things"! The answers to these questions ends the argument. This is the same argument that is being made about some of our great batsmen. There is nothing that some of them could do that their peers could not do with equal time given to all. But there are so many things that people like Bradman and Lara have done that these other so called greats cannot do, even though they have been given all the time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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