January 7, 2011

Kallis is the Sobers of his generation

Before you pop a vein in outrage, consider the similarity in their numbers

Jacques Kallis' exploits over the last three weeks - or indeed over the last 15 years - must draw comparison with the best that have ever played the game. And it is tempting to put his all-round skills alongside the man who must be seen as the best to have played cricket. But can I? Will the Sobers generation descend on me with all the fury they can command? Will I be consigned to Azkaban? Will Bishan Bedi, Ian Chappell and the like walk away if I join them for dinner?

Assessments tend to display loyalty to their generation. And a generation that has passed on tends to become better with every passing day. RD Burman struggled in the second half of his career but now you wouldn't believe he ever composed an ordinary song. Imran Khan never made a mistake as a captain, Richie Benaud never had a bad commentary day, the Beatles only produced classics, and Che Guevara was the greatest revolutionary ever. So for a generation that regarded Sobers as king, will Kallis be no more than a chieftain?

Sadly generation loyalty also means that the giants of the past will be measured in numbers today. That would seem unfair and incorrect - can CK Nayudu or Keith Miller be ever measured thus? - but it is relevant to a more analytical, numbers-driven generation. To them a Sobers or a Gavaskar must stand the test of numbers; they earn respect not just because we say so but because their achievements are there in black and white. Everything must be measured. Increasingly numbers defeat words.

And so to the great Garry Sobers and to the great Jacques Kallis. One smooth, slim and lissome, the quintessential amateur who shunned thigh pads and might have shunned a helmet, who played with a smile and brought many to spectators, who could do things people knew and didn't. The other thick-set, solid, the modern-day professional, always focused, firm jaw and gritted teeth, and can do everything in the game.

For someone who finished in 1973 and for another who only began in 1995, their records are amazingly similar. From 93 Tests (and these are numbers serious cricket lovers know by heart) Sobers had 8032 runs at 57.78, 26 centuries, 235 wickets at 34.03 and 109 catches. Kallis has played one and a half times the number of Tests (145) and, hold your breath, has virtually an identical proportion of runs (11,947 at 57.43), centuries (40), and even catches (166)! He has fewer wickets by comparison but at a marginally better average (270 at 32.01).

Sobers batted largely from No. 6, which some might say is an easier number but affords fewer opportunities, while Kallis, amazingly for an allrounder, batted from No. 3 or 4, which meant he had more time but also often had to change bowling shoes for the half-spikes rather quickly

This similarity in numbers cannot be mere coincidence. Yes, there were variables. Sobers played first-class cricket all around the world in addition to his Test workload, but Kallis has played 307 one-day internationals too. Sobers batted largely from No. 6, which some might say is an easier number but affords fewer opportunities, while Kallis, amazingly for an allrounder, batted from No. 3 or 4, which meant he had more time but also often had to change bowling shoes for the half-spikes rather quickly.

The batting position is interesting. All the great allrounders, from Keith Miller to Sobers to Imran Khan to Ian Botham and Kapil Dev batted at No. 6 or lower, even though they were often better than those who batted above them. Certainly, excellent as Basil Butcher and Seymour Nurse were, Sobers was a better batsman. I often wonder if players like Sobers batted as low as they did out of respect for those who were in the side as batsmen alone. But Kallis was always a top-order player, and if he took fewer wickets for the number of games he played it was because he was always the fourth seamer, alongside wicket-takers like Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn.

You could argue that this is a great time to be a batsman, and you would argue well, but it cannot be held against players. Kallis averages 170 against Zimbabwe and has enjoyed playing against Bangladesh too, but those aggregates do not significantly skew his numbers (only 1000 out of almost 12,000 are against those two countries). He didn't enjoy playing Sri Lanka greatly (averaging 33) but amazingly neither did Sobers against New Zealand (averaging 24). And while Kallis didn't have to play one of the best bowling sides over the last 15 years, Sobers never had to face Hall, Griffith, himself and Gibbs in Test cricket.

So maybe it is time to put blasphemy aside, let two greats sit at the same table and acknowledge Kallis to be the Sobers of his generation. Now would that please everyone?

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 10, 2011, 20:25 GMT

    If cricketers of the past are better than Kallis or Tendulkar, then I declare that old Spencer Gore, a simple man who tonked his way past 31 other tea drinking gentlemen in the first edition of Wimbledon in the 1800's was a better tennis player than some of the super sports giants out there who haven't won Wimbledon, such as Andy Roddick who recorded serves near to 250 kph... Just an example of the errors of comparing across era's :)

  • Dummy4 on January 10, 2011, 16:46 GMT

    yet another great work by Mr. Harsha, i was always thinking bout the two...but u did it really well.... yes theres always a generation loyalty....but sobers was "the best"...

  • Sudipto on January 10, 2011, 15:46 GMT

    I agree Harsha! And I would like to state that the Australian attack of Lee-Mcgrath-Gillespie-Warne was no less(may be better) compared to some of the bowling attacks Sobers faced in his career. Yes, Kallis does have the benefit of never having had to face the likes of Steyn, Morkel, Donald et al but then, truly speaking, not many of his generation boast a batting average as good as he has! I would go a step ahead and predict him doing even better in the long run the way he's going. And he does have a few years left in him!

  • Dummy4 on January 10, 2011, 9:27 GMT

    Hi, Making comparisions of "old" vs "new" is like comparing Formula I cars of old and new. What we fail to understand is the fact that technology now plays a very inportant part of any sport. The greatness on the human is to rise above it all and still maintain the striking stats of averages. Wes Hall or Charlie Griffith never had the technology at their disposal. Now Daryl Steyn and Monnie Morlel have special gear and science to get the max out of their actions. Both have striking averages in terms of wickets. How many opposing teams have watched Sachin or Kallis and tried to blunt them with strategies. These were not so in the past. Yet they rose above all and present such performances. Yet we have the "Greats" like Sachin and Kallis still outshine. Let us salute these greats of the game and give them the right place rather than compare them. It is rare that we see such greats and let us enjoy them as long as they play. Thanks to you guys for keeping the game enjoyable

  • Dummy4 on January 10, 2011, 8:14 GMT

    One more person whom I feel should be considered in this argument is Kumar Sangakkara, as per the definition of allrounder he can walk in to the team purely as a batsman or purely as a wicket keeper. Dhoni is there. But I wouldn't play him in the eleven just as a batsman when it comes to test cricket.

  • Asrar on January 10, 2011, 7:22 GMT

    There is no way anyone can say that sobers is better than kallis or kallis equal to sobers, those were different times, having seen the games of the 60's 70's and 80's i have come to an opinion that the times cannot be compared, i find it hard for those batsmen to have that kind of successs in this era with all the technology and neutral umpiring, and the third umpires and how much technical the game has become with all the video footages seen by the opponents to point out batsmens weaknesses and bowl to their weaknesses, U all just talk about uncovered pitches and helmets,but guys even those uncovered pitches used to be flat and placid. I really think modern day cricket is lot tougher and challenging than yesteryears with all the workload and pressure of performance, pressure from the country the media. Todays cricket is definetly better than yesteryears.

  • Harsh on January 10, 2011, 4:18 GMT

    Imran Khan,Ian Botham and keith miller could transform thecomplexion of amatch or series with both bat and ball more than Kallis.I feel the Ian Botham of 1977-82,and Imran khan and Keith Miller would have won my vote in an all-time test side ahead of Kallis.Imran Khan at his peak was the best match-winning cricketer of his generation and overall the best fast bolwing allrounder ever,who shaped the destiny of his nation more than any cricket.At his best like the 1981 Ashes and the 1980 Jubillee test Botham was almost Sober's equal and from 1977-82 had the best allround stats after Sobers.

    Kali's performaces as a batsman in acrisis are phenomenal and match that of Sobers but he could never dominate bolwing to the extent Sobers could.Kallis' batting is in the Rahul Dravid or Allan Border mould,while Sobers domination could surpass even Lara or Tendulkar. Sobers could have won his place in a team as an opening left arm bolwer.

  • Harsh on January 10, 2011, 3:42 GMT

    Statistics do not tell the entire Story But Gary Sobers was a king ,simply standing on another pedestal.T o me,Gary Sobers is the graetset of all cricketers who could win or transform the complexion of a game like noone else,as though God sent him to play Cricket.Kallis was never as talented a bower as Gary who bolwed Chinaman ,spin and pace and also opened the bolwing,being one of the most thratening new ball bowlers.Sobers alround performancesin1970 for Rest of the World in England ,in 1966 in England and in the 4th test at Kingston agaisnt England in 1968-69 when he scored 113 on abroken track and captured 8 wickets have never been equaled by Kallis.Kallis infact now is basically ,purely a graet batsman .In Sober's era the attack was dominated by Hall Griiffith,Giib setc so hehardly could dominate the bolwers role.

    After Sobers,being such a great match-wining cricketer Imran would rank after him as a cricketer.,folowed by Ian Botham.

  • Joshua on January 10, 2011, 1:41 GMT

    Sick to death of hearing about Kaliis playing for hids averages. he is the glue that holds the side together and for years had to subdue his natural attacking instincts because of the brittleness of the SA batting line up. Now he has Amla, De Villiers and Smith. And look at his scoring rate since then. Same as Ponting, Tendulkar etc. SA have always been a side(post re-admission) that could be all for very low scores prior to Kallis coming along. Many, many times it was only he that stood between SA and humiliation. In the ODI sides he has always had to play the anchor role. And, unlike Sobers, he has got his stats in all countries, against some of the finest bowlers in history. And please stop with this nonsense of 'lively wickets' in Sobers time.Tripe - they were all covered then as now. And have you tried to bat at the Wanderers or Durban against really fast bowlers? You will leave brown stains, believe me. And Newlands can be a seamers & spinners paradise.

  • paul on January 9, 2011, 23:51 GMT

    Its very difficult - almost impossible to accurately and dispassionately compare players across the eras - there are simply too many variables - but what is clearly beyond doubt; Kallis - STATISTICALLY - is the greatest all rounder (cricketer) of the MODERN era while Sobers dominated his. Remember Sobers was with his variations perhaps more of a bowling all rounder whereas Kallis is the opposite. As the game has moved on so should assumptions and opinions about true greats of the game. Kallis has never properly received the plaudits he deserves but he is by common consent the most complete CRICKETER currently playing the game and when he finally retires and based on pure stats he has to go down as one of the greatest of all time.

  • No featured comments at the moment.