South Africa in England 2012 July 25, 2012

Kallis underappreciated no longer

Another big hundred, important wickets and safe hands - Jacques Kallis is finally getting some of the credit he deserves

Jacques Kallis had waited 143 Test matches and 15 years to score his first double hundred. It was thought of as the only thing he could not do. When it eventually came, against India in Centurion at the end of 2010, most expected a flood of twin tons to follow. They were not far wrong.

The second was scored just seven matches later and the third was not far off coming up on Sunday at The Oval. Had it done so, it would have been Kallis' third double in 10 Test matches.

With South Africa leading by 252, an advantage that would cushion them but could still be plumped, and the England attack meandering, there did not seem to be a reason Kallis would not get there. Unexpectedly, he was denied, left on 182. Graeme Smith made a positive declaration after consulting with Kallis, who gave his blessing that he would sacrifice an individual accolade for the team goal.

A day later, Kallis and Gary Kirsten, South Africa's coach, were tasked with the post-match media session after an emphatic win. Kallis was asked about the current South Africa bowling attack and how he ranked them compared with packs of the past.

"In terms of variations, it's right up there, as good as we've had," he said. "We've got Vernon who puts the batsmen under pressure, we've got Dale Steyn's pace and swing, we've got Morne with his bounce and we've got Immi [Imran Tahir] as a legspinner, which we haven't had for a long time, to add attacking value, so we've got a nice balance."

Kallis ended his assessment there but Kirsten interrupted him. "And then we've also got some guy who has taken 280-odd Test wickets, I can't think of his name," the coach said, nudging Kallis in jest. Kallis only smiled.

As one of the most under-appreciated players of his generation, he is used to being forgotten about when greats of the game are discussed. Occasionally a debate will spark that compares Kallis with Garfield Sobers, Ian Botham or Imran Khan and none is clear favourite for the 'greatest allrounder' tag. Even if there was a conclusion, Kallis wouldn't care to know. He maintains that comparisons over different eras are irrelevant because "we play so much cricket these days", and statistics may only mean something to him when he retires.

Had he said something like that a few years ago, he may not have been believed because he was seen as man who played for himself before others. At the 2007 World Cup in particular, Kallis did all he could to portray himself as that type of person. He single-handedly turned the speeding car of a chase against Australia in the group stages into one whose engine had stalled.

Perhaps it was performances like those that kept Kallis from earning the praise he deserved but in recent years the stodginess has smoothed. Evidence of that can be gleaned from something as simple as Kallis' strike rate. In five of the last six years, he has managed to keep it over 50 in Test cricket, having been a steady lower 40s before that. Included in that period has been his fastest century.

There is an interesting correlation between the time when Kallis started scoring quicker and his contribution to South Africa wins. Ten of his 19 hundreds scored since June 2006 have been in winning causes; before that, 11 out of 24 hundred contributed to victories. His new-found vitality in run-scoring has extended as far as earning him a recall to South Africa's T20 squad, from which he was dropped in 2010.

Along with his batting, Kallis has always made a telling but often overlooked contribution with the ball. To say he was quicker when he was younger, would be incorrect. He remains able to bowl at around 145kph, especially as his workload has been steadily decreased. While he once had to shoulder the considerable burden of being a wicket-taker, he now acts as a balancer to the other attacking options around him.

That is not to be mistaken for saying Kallis is the holding bowler. He is the multi-faceted one. At times, he is called on to give the others a break and contain, at others as the reserve armoury, to come out and strike when no-one else and usually it works. At The Oval, it was Kallis who made the crucial breakthrough late on the first day when he removed Kevin Pietersen with a bouncer - one of the few short balls South Africa bowled on a sluggish track that day.

Had England's premier batsmen survived into the next morning, the match may have played out in completely different fashion. But Kallis changed the course of that and although he does not need that to recognised as a turning point, it ended up being one of the most significant.

Ian Bell acknowledged it when he said: "Kallis on day one was important, when the ball swings he is as good as anyone in the world." James Anderson paid homage to him in the London Evening Standard, saying Kallis "gives great balance to their team as a fourth seamer and he is one of the greatest batsmen there has ever been but somehow doesn't quite get the credit for it."

That has been the story of Kallis' career for as long as it has lasted. For more than ten years, from 2000 to late 2011, he was ranked the top allrounder in Test cricket. He lost that status to Shakib Al Hasan a few months ago and shrugged it off as no big deal. Today, Kallis regained that spot.

Many will say rightfully so, after he conquered the one territory he had not been able to reach in the past. A century, an incisive showing with the ball and his usual safe hands in the slips have shown why Kallis' all-round abilities are vital to South Africa's quest to reach No.1 in England.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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