Rob Steen
Rob Steen Rob SteenRSS FeedFeeds  | Archives
Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Kallis, Steyn, and why the X-factor matters

As events at The Oval showed, greatness is the ability to bend and shape events by will, to dictate history rather than be dictated to by it

Rob Steen

July 25, 2012

Comments: 62 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith has a word with Hashim Amla, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 3rd day, November 11, 2011
Amla and Smith: unshakeable faith in their own strengths © Associated Press

If class truly is permanent and form really is but temporary, what can we say of greatness? That it's another word for class? That there's a word even more time-and-tide-proof than permanent? We can certainly say without the slightest fear of contradiction that there was an appreciable and remarkable dollop of it on show at The Oval. Hints, betrayals and denials of it as well as stone-cold, enshrined-for-all-cricketing-time confirmation. But let's start with a couple of insights from one who knows.

The Olde Cock Tavern is one of those ancient haunts once beloved of Fleet Street's most fearless and feckless. The last Thursday in June found a gaggle of hacks assembled there to break bread with Ed Moses, one of the greatest of all Olympians and honoured guest of the Sports Journalists' Association of Great Britain. Once the formalities had been done and dusted, the interrogation began. What ensued was mostly gentle, very occasionally provocative, unfailingly polite and deferential.

What, I enquired by way of a gentle, polite and deferential opening half-volley, had been the chief motivation for this arch-competitor, the chap who not only won the Olympic 400 metres hurdles in 1976 and 1984 sans chemical assistance (and would almost certainly have done so in 1980 had the US not boycotted the Moscow Games) but strung together an unbeaten streak of 107 consecutive finals and 122 races all told?

Measured but affable, the response was disarmingly straightforward: height and, as his aura grew to such extraordinary heights, a constantly reinvigorating dread of defeat. "I was five-foot-eight, one of the smaller boys at school. Too small for football, too small for basketball. No one picked me."

Later he recalled an eerie out-of-body experience during the 1984 Olympic final in LA: "There were 100,000 in the stadium but after the third hurdle everything went quiet, bar the sound of feet landing, step patterns and legs brushing hurdles." Not only did he possess every last milligram of the focus required by all those who seek sporting greatness, he could even eliminate the crowd from the equation. And when mind can defeat matter, as it must when your every move is being watched and scrutinised, anything is possible.

It is that capacity to block out all extraneous thoughts that separates the indisputable greats from the nearlys and almosts and not-a-chancers. South Africa currently boast three of the first and one poised to complete the transition, and at The Oval they all had their game face on when it mattered. Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn underscored in the most indelible of red ink why they have the Moses touch. For this triumvirate, more conspicuously than for most sportsfolk, the motivation does indeed appear to be that dread of defeat - or, more positively, the need for victory, as opposed to merely the desire.

In trumping them, moreover, Hashim Amla confirmed that he, too, possesses that other prime prerequisite of those pursuing posterity: unshakeable faith in one's own strengths. The most obvious symbol of this has been his faith in his own faith - hence his continued refusal to compromise by bearing the Castle Lager logo* on his uniform. And while he may be a sublime artist, he's also a sound scientist and sure-footed strategist who knows how to reduce error, pace an innings and conduct a partnership of substance - witness how he spent 47 balls moving from 46 to 56, then inched from 54 to 70 while Smith surged from 37 to 84. Style and steel seldom find such harmony. Think Lara, ponder VVS: he may well have it in him to outdo both.

By contrast, sadly, Kennington appeared to reveal all too much about Ravi Bopara's shortcomings, for what is talent without appropriate application? Two self-engendered dismissals - whether attributable to inferior shot selection (first dig) or execution (second) - should be considered the perfect riposte to the columnist who recently picked him at first-drop for an all-British Asian 2015 England XI scribbled on the obituaries page of the Times. But then, assessing putative greatness is rarely straightforward.

Within 18 months of Smith launching his reign by caning England with double-tons in consecutive Tests, he was presiding over a team that had lost three successive final Tests, and four out of five; not one of those stumbles resulted in a rubber won. Then came twin thrashings by Australia full of personal non-contributions. It also took him just 17 months to slither from an average muscling towards 80 to below 52. How many forecast then where he stands today?

IF GREATNESS CAN BE DEFINED as the ability to rise above the pack, to convert the unusual into the routine and the unlikely into the matter-of-fact, to do the necessary when it matters most, it can be more instructively rationalised as the capacity to bend and shape events by will, to dictate history rather than be dictated to by it. Kallis and Steyn accomplish this one way, Smith another.

Kallis, who can do everything with authority bar keep wicket (though you wouldn't necessarily bet against him doing better than de Villiers), is, on figures if not versatility, the most consistently and durably prolific allrounder the international game has ever seen; Steyn is the pre-eminent paceman of the past decade, one where wickets have seldom if ever attracted a higher price or extracted a sterner toll; yet that has still failed signally to stop him posting a strike rate that would have chuffed even that prince of diffidence SF Barnes. One has licence to dominate, the other to enthral and ill. Both have skill and intent to burn.

South Africa romped home not just because their key men so vividly demonstrated the difference between those who have savoured greatness, recognise its permanence and know how it means more than mere class, and those still attempting to cross the bridge from mere excellence

Smith has achieved greatness despite the despites. Despite a technique that defies most if not all tenets of the average textbook, despite being saddled with the captaincy at a tender 22, and despite, as Telford Vice put it, being " tasked with rebuilding South Africans' faith in the integrity of game itself" following the H***** C***** betrayal, he has proved himself, over and over again, as both opener par excellence (over the past 10 years none has exceeded his Test hauls of 7938 runs, 25 hundreds and 30 half-montys) and leader supreme (doubtless has those ever-alert eyes set on becoming the first to orchestrate 50 wins). As attested by the fact that he has captained his country nearly twice as many times as Mark Taylor, the next most successful opener-captain, nobody has borne those twin burdens with such indomitable resolve.

Yet while none of their number has quite reached the summit of unqualified greatness - in itself, perhaps, the secret to a resurgence that could yet see them become the first act to reside at No. 1 in the 33rpm, 45 and 78 charts simultaneously - England have more budding greats in their camp: Jimmy Anderson, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann are all on course to break long-standing national records, and who knows how many surprises Jonathan Trott has still to spring, or how good Steven Finn could be.

That only Prior came close to cutting the mustard in south London may say something unpalatable about English over-confidence or unflattering about those - myself among them - who are finding it increasingly hard to recall a better team of Poms in any sport since 1966. Would it be reasonable, therefore, to state that, when it mattered, they allowed themselves to be bent and mis-shapen? No, because that would diminish the merits of South Africa's strident quartet and the way they imposed their will, the way greatness has always imposed its will and always will. You'd still need a sizeable pair of blinkers to neglect the X-factor.

It is difficult not to conclude that Mark Boucher's sight-threatening eye injury was even more important to the tourists than the first encounter of a crucial if pitifully and shamefully short series. After his devoted wicketkeeper had been felled by that evil bail at Taunton, Smith expressed the hope that South Africa would "play with him in our hearts and minds", not just on this tour but "for many years". You could see it most obviously when Kallis pointed to his right eye after reaching his century, but also when Steyn lost his rag with Gary Kirsten, and when Smith himself, eyes ablaze, read the riot act after his team took the field for the final session on day one. Whatever he said, the response was all but immediate; every man jack shifted up a gear.

Defying most predictions, however misguided, South Africa romped home on Monday afternoon not just because their key men so vividly demonstrated the difference between those who know how to eliminate the crowd, who have savoured greatness, recognise its permanence and know how it means more than mere class, and those still attempting to cross the bridge from mere excellence. They also did so because they're running out of time to bring their nation's cricket to fulfilment, and because, perhaps above all, Boucher gave them a cause beyond themselves.

Between now and next Thursday morning, the Andocracy will be citing last November, when Smith's own side bowled Australia out for 47 in Cape Town then permitted the same opposition to chase down 300-plus in Jo'burg. They will also be ramming home the overriding message ad nauseam: one crushing defeat doth not a bad side make. What they must fear is that the Boucher Factor has the roots Smith believes and the longevity he craves.

12:08:22 GMT, July 25, 2012: The article originally stated that Amla pays a $500 fine for not sporting the Castle Lager logo, which is not true

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

RSS Feeds: Rob Steen

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2012, 22:29 GMT)

@SamRoy - I think that the Ponting v Sachin thing is not as big deal. Punter had the greatest "form burst" ever for a batsmen post Bradman that last around 50 tests or 5yrs. At one point in time it looked like he'd average near 70 by the time he retired. Sachin has plowed along over time at a consistantly high level for a period much longer than Punter & rightly counts for a lot. IMO - Sachin is the better of the two in batting terms, IMO it's close as Punter had the dual responsibility of captaincy & lead batsmen, something Sachin didn't do well with. I rate Lara at times way beyond the pair of them, with Sachin slightly ahead overall. I do believe taht if Sachin plays on(lessor extent Punter too), he runs the risk of diminishing his legacy such that he won't be considered near either. Interestingly Kallis chips away & gets better with age, I think he is edged past Dravid & is pretty much ahead of Punter. Although comparitive match awareness is a negative (IMO) with Kallis.

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2012, 22:23 GMT)

@_NEUTRAL_Fan_ - mate - Sobers was mostly a spinner & I compared Gibbs (as a spinner), against Sobers. I didn't compare Gibbs to Kallis. Just so that you understand WHY I included stats on the pacers you mentioned, it was to show that (whether they were good or not), their sample size is not a reasonable comparison. One of the pitches Tsotsobe bowled on was an absolute road where about 13 runs were scored off - for bairly 20 wickets. If a bowler has only played 5 games, including a road, he is hardly going to have flattering figures. His stats were better in the 5 games he played, than Kallis. I was talking subjectivity where you used the words "...he would have averaged around 28-29 with the ball, and picked up around 4 wickets per match." there is no justifiable basis for it, & I am uneasy about the whole arguement, as the more I prove my point - the more it appears I am sledging Kallis which is the last thing I wish to do. I'd call it a draw as we have immovable opposing opinions!

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (July 27, 2012, 21:02 GMT)

@Meety, look u'r "facts" n my "subjectivity" is being twisted n picked n green taped 2 suit u. Is this a courtroom? So what if Paul Harris is a spinner? U urself mentioned LANCE GIBBS. for a comparison of SR, scroll down n read ur own comment again. N so what if they only played 1 n 5 games? Cricket is part stats n part observation no? How many experts have said stats only tell part the story? Their stats aren't more impressive neither were their performance, on his day IF REQUIRED and perhaps if he was selected as a bowler alone...HE WASN't he would have taken more wickets. He looks more than capable. Besides similar to Paul Harris, he's often asked to play a holding role n their were times that he did better than Paul Harris in that regard. WHether or not Smith was using Paul Harris well is just as "SUBJECTIVE" I will call it a draw if we say we both have our opinions but I refuse to call it a draw in that u presented "facts" which @ times were well manipulated n contradicting.

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2012, 13:58 GMT)

@_NEUTRAL_Fan_ - fair enuff re: captaincy skills, is was more tongue in cheek than anything, although captaining Pakistan is a skill set beyond what most mortals can achieve with any success. You ar using bowlers that either are fledgling or haven't had success. In regards McLauren - I assume you mean Ryan Mclaren, who only played 1 test & only bowled 13 overs. Tsotsobe only played 5 tests & in that period (5 of 8 games) Kallis's ave was around 45, although Tsotsobe took a lot more wickets in the games he played than Kallis. Only saying that as there are mitigating circumstances. I am not interested in Paul harris as he is a spinner & needs to be evaluated on a different set of principles & on top of that, Sth Africa (rightly or wrongly) have not had a good reputation amongst their captains of using spinners well since readmission. I accept you maybe a fan of Kallis (nothing wrong there), but I've backed all my arguements with facts, you are using subjectivity. Call it a draw?

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (July 27, 2012, 13:13 GMT)

@Meety fair enough let's leave Bang n Zim out of it, NZ, W.I. , Sri Lanka and Ind....thats about 4 teams I am sure would love to select Kallis as a bowler alone and he has better career stats as a bowler than Paul Harris as I mentioned before. I would go as far as to say he looks n performs better than Tsotsobe and Mc Lauren BOTH who have been selected as specialist bowlers for SA in recent times. And about the captaincy thing, well guess what, only 1 player at a time is required to be captain but I'm sure all teams would love to have 11 guys who can field well. The 3 basic n most important parts of cricket r batting, bowling n fielding, so u know what the "never heard of Kallis' captaincy skills" is not very important at all.

Posted by   on (July 27, 2012, 6:03 GMT)

So many greats in their squad...!

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2012, 2:59 GMT)

@_NEUTRAL_Fan - your arguement could almost be summarised as - if Kallis was eligible to be selected for bangladesh - he therfore can be qualified as a dual specialist, which is IMO setting the bar a bit low! In regards Botham & Khan's batting averages, you have twisted my arguement. I asked modern bowlers comparable to Kallis - as Kallis is a modern cricketer. The FAIR question from you is name great batsmen of the 80s that had averages comparable to Khan & Botham. Despite that, your question is not valid as my original question was to see how it could be proved that Kallis could be selected as a specialist bowler as it has never happenned, whereas Khan was selected as a specialist batsmen & bowler. Botham was originally selected as a bowler, & was the fastest player to achieve the allrounder's "holy grail" of 1,000 runs & 100 wickets. Clearly in comparison - Kallis is a better batsmen by a long way - irrespective of what era.

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2012, 2:42 GMT)

@Xolile - "...and I've never heard persons praise Khan for his outstanding fielding..." just as I've never heard anyone praising Kallis for his captaincy ability! I haven't minded the first part of discussion but all your comments on (July 26 2012, 18:50 PM GMT) - are dissappointingly weak. There is plenty of evidence he got to bowl at the tail. In fact 38% of his wickets are positions #7 to #11, also he has maintained 20 overs a match thru out his career until the last 2 seasons. Your last 2 sentences is total supposition. There is nothing in his career stats (except games against Zim & Bang), that would suggest he'd have a an ave around 29 or take 4 wickets a match. Kallis is & has been a great asset for Safrica, but to make up stuff like that cheapens his actual achievements. It is a luxury for captains to have Kallis as a bowling option nestled in the top 6 in the batting order. But to say he'd be 20% better when his 1st inn stats are ave 39.4 & S/R 79.9 is a massive stretch!

Posted by Highflyer_GP on (July 26, 2012, 19:55 GMT)

@naphy23: it was Diepenaar who got out early in that game.

Posted by BellCurve on (July 26, 2012, 18:50 GMT)

@Meety - I would like to add three further points to my previous comment: (e) Kallis seldom bowled at the tail, because the prevailing wisdom in SA cricket is to let the fastest, meanest bowlers loose at that stage of the innings; (f) Kallis' career started earlier because of his batting abilitily; at that point in time his bolwing skills were not fully developed yet; and (g) Kallis' career is ending later because of his phenomenal batting ability; given that he is a fast bowler (>140kmh), he is currently not quite as sharp as at this peak; his declining bowling average supports this observation. All in all, if Kallis were picked as to bat at No11 and open the bowling, he would have averaged around 28-29 with the ball, and picked up around 4 wickets per match. That's better than all but the very best of modern day bowlers.

Posted by naphy23 on (July 26, 2012, 18:42 GMT)

I already have Grame Smith better than Kallis with the bat. Think of SA's greatest victories in Eng & Aus '08. It was Smith that played colossal match saving and match winning innings' in both series. Kallis never showed up. Great players show up in great moments. Smith always does, Kallis is yet to. Think of the 438 game. That was all Herchelle Gibbs but Smith showed up with 90 odd runs. Kallis getting out early was probably the best thing that happened for SA. That's unheard of when talking about great players. This is the Kallis phenomenon. On paper alone, the greatest. The eye test says differently.

Posted by SamRoy on (July 26, 2012, 16:48 GMT)

To all Aussies who think Ponting is better than Tendulkar I have this to say: Ponting faced Indian bowlers, Tendulkar faced Australian bowlers:) Ponting only dominated between 2002-2006 (when there were no great bowling lineups except Australia) and Tendulkar dominated from 1990 to 2010 with the exception of 2004-2007 (because of tennis elbow). Ponting never faced Wasim-Waqar, Donald-DeVilliers-Pollock (ok a couple of times), Ambrose-Walsh-Bishop in their absolute primes. Tendulkar was never as good as Lara but Ponting, seriously? I rate Kallis, Steve Waugh and Dravid over Ponting as consistent run makers though I can understand when people rate him above the three because of his aggression. But more than Sachin, no chance. And more than Lara? Joke of the century.

Posted by vallavarayar on (July 26, 2012, 16:39 GMT)

I couldn't have said it better myself :)

Posted by hunterofdawn on (July 26, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

@ stevegridley And yet Ponting has failed so miserably on those "flat tracks". Liking Sachin is a matter of personal choice, belittling his talent and making false judgements just shows your lack of understanding of cricket.

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (July 26, 2012, 13:35 GMT)

@Meety. In response to ur comment to StaalBurger. Name ONE GREAT batsman of any era who had batting stats as poor as Khan and Botham. In the MODERN era bowlers like SA's very own PAUL HARRIS, who was selected as a specialist "holding role" bowler, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Sami, Darren Powel, (formerly of W.I.) a couple of tried and tested NZ bowlers and many bowlers from Bang and Zim hav worse bowling stats than Kallis. Therefore, I think in several teams Kallis could be selected as a bowler alone just like staalburger is saying. Remember, Kallis is a batting all-rounder and Khan was a bowling all-rounder. I think Kallis is better because IMO, Kallis is just as good a batsman as Khan is a bowler but Kallis is a slightly better bowler than Khan is a batsman and I've never heard persons praise Khan for his outstanding fielding.

Posted by RockcityGuy on (July 26, 2012, 11:56 GMT)

@sonya...and LARA won all the matches is it???? the WINDIES crashed and hit rock bottom during his illustrious personal career...PLZ dont talk about match winning and LARA...

Posted by RockcityGuy on (July 26, 2012, 11:53 GMT)

@stevegridley...calling sachin shorty is just cheap man...he's the most prolific run maker in cricketing history...just read what john woodcock said about sach after his perth '92 hundred...why even the don said sachin's the guy who resembles him the most...btw sachin's one of the very few to make a hundred in every country...his average against AUS 60.6..against ENG 56.3...

Posted by Meety on (July 26, 2012, 11:45 GMT)

@Xolile - not that it really matters what my definition of an allrounder is, there are many suitable ones. I said specifically that under the definition of being able to be selected as a specialist bowler or batsmen, Kallis does not fit. Does not mean he isn't an allrounder, he just happens to be batsmen centric, that's all. None of the points you raised (which I agree are true), have any relevance to what I am talking about! If the things you mentioned are true, would that not suggest he is a part time bowler, as he is not good enuff as a bowler to be given the new ball? Shane Watson has a similar job to Kallis (IMO not in the same ball park as Kallis's standing), his S/R is considerably better (sub 60), his ave is better (sub 30), not played against Bang or Zim, so is closer to my definition than Kallis, but I wouldn't count him either. Partly because he plays in a weak side, the only allrounder in the world atm, that falls into the category of "dual" specialist is (IMO), Shakib.

Posted by Hammond on (July 26, 2012, 11:36 GMT)

I love how all these sides are trying to be the new "1980's Windies" or the "2000's Aussies". I don't think we will see such dominance again for a while, and to me that is a good thing for the game. Now we need a resurgent Pakistan and Windies sides to shake up the top 3 (which incidentally are the original 3 members of the Imperial Cricket Conference- the great grandad of the ICC)..

Posted by Arulan_Thomas on (July 26, 2012, 10:56 GMT)

kallis and Amla are my current favourite players, along with Sanga, Murali and Mahela. Lara is great, but don't know about Sachin!! He gets hyped by the media in his country quite a lot but he is nothing special. Sachin; overrated and over hyped.

Posted by Stanmclean on (July 26, 2012, 10:45 GMT)

Ponting is miles ahead of shorty Tendulker, who only plays well on flat pitches. If he was asked to play on a pitch with movements, than he will give up and get out. Just look at how he played in England and Australia. Jimmy Anderson got him out many times and the Australia bowlers had not problems despatching him. lol

Posted by Stanmclean on (July 26, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

The likes of Ponting, Hayden and even Langer is better than Sachin, who only plays well at home. So, leave Sachin out and write about him, when he actually does well aboard. He has great records but it doesn't mean he is great like Ponting, who was not only a successful captain but also a great player. Tendulker is average.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 10:33 GMT)

How can you put Lara and Tendulker in the same sentence? Lara has scored runs everywhere and against every opposition. He is a player who has performed well on big occasions and he has personally helped WI win many matches. Tendulker only performs on flat wickets and look how miserably he failed in England and Australia. Lara has style, temperament, technic and above all, the self-belief to perform when it matters. Tendulker is good for Indian standard, that's it.

Posted by BellCurve on (July 26, 2012, 10:24 GMT)

@Meety - Your analysis is flawed. You should take into consideration that: (a) Kallis usually bowls with the old ball; (b) Kallis usually bowls into the wind; (c) Kallis often bowls after marathon innings when his legs are not exactly fresh; (d) Kallis seldom bowls when conditions are favourable to bowlers, because in those instances the frontline bowlers run through the opposition. If you were to quantify each of these factors and adjust Kallis' career stats, his bowling average would be below 30 and his SR below 60. That is around the same as Morkel, Ntini or Nel. Therefore, Kallis meets your definition of an all-rounder.

Posted by jb633 on (July 26, 2012, 9:02 GMT)

This is a big call, but I have a feeling that Philander is going to be one of the game's greats. Altough he did not pick up wickets in the oval test, he looked threatning throughout. He is extremely accurate, presents a perfect seam and has enough pace to bowl bumpers if need be. He reminds me of Shaun Pollock towards the latter end of his career. I know it is a big call so early in his career, but I am convinced this guy will go down in history. This coming from an English fan

Posted by Meety on (July 26, 2012, 5:56 GMT)

@_NEUTRAL_Fan_ - I'd atm have Smith over Amla & AB, as I have a few little queries, but I could see Amla as becoming an early candidate for a team of the All Time XI of the 21st century, not yet. Steyn is already at Greatness level, it just depends how much? His career S/R in an era where batsmen have been dominant is remarkable. It's too early regarding Philander, but he has had arguably the 2nd best start to a career for a bowler ever! As far as England I agree with you, although I think KP is already a great (selected in England's All Time XI - & that was several yrs ago). Swann has a couple more years - but at this standard he will be. If you drew a line in Cook's career from the test prior the 2010/11 Ashes to now, he is the best batsmen since Richards, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that, I thought playing ODIs would hurt his test performances - but hasn't so far.

Posted by Meety on (July 26, 2012, 5:30 GMT)

@StaalBurgher - "could of been selected as a bowler", bit weak. I was referring to a specific definition, I praised what Kallis has achieved as a bowler & a batsmen & as a fielder. I won't bag Kallis but "...Kallis record speaks for itself..." - I suggest you go have a look at his record & tell me against which countries does Kallis have a bowling record that would make him a specialist bowler? A simple look thru records of the 50s & 60s will show that there were many draws where the run rate barely reached 2 rpo, only 3 or 4 bowlers went thru the 1960s with sub 60 S/Rates. One of Sobers team mates Lance Gibbs, (fmr leading wicket taker) & acknowledged great of the game had a S/R of 87, just 4 below Sobers. Name one recent (last 20yrs) great bowler that has a S/R any where near as high as Kallis. Don't wish to say anymore on the subject as I hate detracting from a great to make a point.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 1:51 GMT)

I think people need to read the Lara reference again. Steen did not compare with Lara rather with the intersection of Lara and Laxman given some of Amla's more aggressive shots.

As for reference to Imran, irrespective of rankings and being first change or not, Imran was a better bowler but was only sufficiently good bastman and not even close to Kallis. How would you say who is better as one is a better bowler and one a better batter? I believe (and I stress the subjectivity of belief) that Imran was better as an all rounder since he had the decisive game changing strength in one field and ability to save a match in the other whereas in general (not talking of specific examples here which I am sure will be a plenty) Kallis does not necessarily win matches for SA but maintains a holding position in both domains. But I am more than ready to accept Kallis as better in current SA teams who have smith, AB and Steyn to go for the kill with support of Kallis.

Posted by Highflyer_GP on (July 26, 2012, 0:05 GMT)

@alfredmynn: His name is AB de Villiers. Bat according to the situation and take the game away when needed. In all formats of the game.

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (July 25, 2012, 23:14 GMT)

@alfredyman. AB is that player n G. Smith although his tech looks terrible somehow strike as about 60 runs per 100 balls.

Posted by SagirParkar on (July 25, 2012, 20:22 GMT)

brilliant article by Rob Steen, an article that needs savouring rather than the asinine arguments that many readers are having here... the point Rob mentions about Bopara, i suppose the same thing applies to Rohit Sharma too... he has wasted many opportunities that have been bestowed upon him.. what is talent indeed without the necessary application to justify it ! kudos Mr Steen.. take a bow !!!!

Posted by alfredmynn on (July 25, 2012, 20:03 GMT)

SA does look as if it has all the ingredients to be the next great team if (and that's a big IF) they conquer their consistent lack of consistency (i.e., stop choking). A minor quibble you can make about their side is that they don't have a truly world-beating alpha-male attacking batsman, something all great sides have had - one with the technique to succeed anywhere, as well as the ability to destroy an opposition attack. I'm thinking of the likes of Sobers, G. Pollock, Richards etc. Kallis does make up for that mighty well though. Steyn is already in the rarefied company of Marshall, Ambrose, Waqar et al. Another weakness, following Boucher's unfortunate accident, is the lack of a world-class wicketkeeper-batsman (at least, none that have made their Test debut yet).

Posted by Greatest_Game on (July 25, 2012, 19:01 GMT)

Steyn's 2nd inns 5 for was an unnoticed milestone - 1st player in the match with more test wickets than Kallis , but Kallis still has the most economical career figs of the established bowlers in both teams. Zak Khan, Vettori, Brett Lee & Harbhajan the only current/very recent players with more wickets than JK - all specialist bowlers. Anderson is 10 behind, & the gap got greater during this game. Kallis' 2 wickets in 19 overs cost 38 runs: Eng's 2 wickets in 189 overs cost 687 runs. Out-thinking, out-smarting, & trapping KP & Bell in inngs 1 changed the game: from 3-251 to 6-284. Each wicket a bowling change, JK has a plan to exploit a pattern he has seen - man gone: KP in 3 balls, Bell in 4. These usually overlooked stats & game-changing spells - they don't grab headlines - illustrate what a phenomenal "Batting Allrounder" Kallis really is - like Sobers. And btw, re their bowling figures. Sobers - 2500 more balls, 42 less wickets, 1.6 higher ave, .6 better econ, 23.2 higher SR.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 18:37 GMT)

Kallis is the most ''complete'' cricketer of All time..!

Posted by Dirk_L on (July 25, 2012, 17:49 GMT)

@Paul Dawson asks "for bowling quality, who would choose Kallis over Sobers?" Maybe Kevin Pietersen would.

Posted by Akshay_AAG on (July 25, 2012, 17:10 GMT)

Kallis & Amla have different class than Tendulkar n Lara. The best all rounder till date is no doubt Kallis.The best player at present is Amla. But, the greatest batsmen in the game of cricket are Tendulkar n Lara...

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (July 25, 2012, 16:57 GMT)

@meety. At one point Kallis was ranked in the top 10 bowlers in the world, enough said about being "selectable as a bowler alone." Imran Khan only became a more dependable bat in the latter parts of his career I think. I think Sobers edges Kallis for his VERSATILITY and his more attacking batting but Kallis is better than Khan. Amla in my opinion is already better than VVS and AB is not far from it and if u consider their ODI ability, well then VVS does not come close. If u consider ODI N T-20 ability, well AB n Amla r within touching distance of all time grets. Steyn as I said in another post, to me is now officially an all time great. Smith I still hav doubts, he could well be a "nearly" like Mark Taylor for example. Vernon Phillander's challenge is to maintain his record till about 150-200 wkts and he will be an all time great also. Cook is close, KP just about, Swann is close and Bell has potential...thats about it for Eng. Its as a TEAM that Eng impress.

Posted by Maui3 on (July 25, 2012, 16:38 GMT)

Its the same SA team that has choked over and over again. But I doubt they will choke this time. The Kirsten-Factor will be the difference. He's building a reputation of taking a team of superstar to a new height, like he did with India. Meanwhile, Kallis is correcting all his past blemsishes before he retires as the best all-rounder ever and perhaps the best batsman as well. He averages 45 in Aus and not 38 in england (up from 30 and 29 respectively from 3 years ago). What a player! and what a treat to watch Kallis, Smith, Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Sanga, Jayawardene, Yousef, Younis, Inzi, Pietersen, Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist, Lara (and even Chanderpaul and Waugh!) in the same generation, after settling for Richards, Gavaskar, Greg Chappell and Miandad in 70s, 80s and early 90s.

Posted by Selassie-I on (July 25, 2012, 16:31 GMT)

good piece Rob, but I think ABDV should have a mention, he's got a fantastic record. Surely you're missing Ali Cook out as well, the 2nd youngest cricketer ever to get to 20 test 100s? surely he'll break most of the english batting records, strauss has 20 100s and he didn't debut until cooks age now!

Posted by StaalBurgher on (July 25, 2012, 16:24 GMT)

@Meety - That is the sort of rubbish I am talking about. "Far behind" Sobers and Khan? Kallis record speaks for itself and at first glance rubbishes your claim that Khan is "far better" than Kallis. Kallis in his prime could also have been selected as a bowler alone. He was 1st change for SA many times, although because he was batsmen he seldom had to and usually had to be rested somewhat. As for batting easier/more difficult (most would disagree with you) is irrelevant. But in that instance all it means is that Kallis is a far better batsman than Sobers because he has done it under more difficult circumstances. It doesn't matter how you spin it. At the very least Kallis is Sobers equal. Personally I don't think one can compare players from different eras but since every second guy on here comes and makes statements like Kallis is "far behind" x, y, z... It is quite clear that Kallis' combined record is stronger than everyone elses regardless which discipline you up/down in difficulty.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 14:50 GMT)

Read the article again people. The author never claims that Amla is better than Lara, only that he has the potential. Personally I think he's too old for that. He's a great player though, and seems to be getting better and better.

Looking at the player rankings today anyone would be surprised to see that England are ranked above SA in the team rankings. Man for man SA appear to be better.

Just one word about greatness. I hope that bias doesn't get in the way of people recognising that Kallis is up there with Sobers, and possibly the best all rounder to have ever played cricket, and certainly the greatest South African cricketer ever.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 14:02 GMT)

I'm enjoying the heat being generated in this discussion. It reminds me of the time when Steve Waugh (at the top of his game) was asked by a journalist "Who's the best batsman today? Lara or Tendulkar?" Waugh made it clear he was unimpressed with the shortlist.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 13:26 GMT)

Amla is certainly a man in his prime, but lest we forget - even Hayden once had 20 test centuries from merely 50 matches. It's how you survive the troughs, which determines your standing, not the peaks alone. It's nearly certain he'd finish somewhere better than VVS, but out-do Lara? That's a hyperbole if ever there was one!

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 13:16 GMT)

Better than Lara? Hahahahhahahahahahahhahahahahahhaahhahahahahhaa. Oh, god. Rob Steen, why did you have to put that into an otherwise lovely piece?

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 12:48 GMT)

An interesting article full of points to ponder. I have seen Kallis batting many times and as a SA supporter I always felt calm when he was at the wicket simply because I knew that it would take something special from the fielding side to get him out. I also recall a number of times when he was given out in a 50/50 decision and a few times when the decision was just plainly a bad one. I recall only one obvious bad decision favouring him. The referral system has therefore obviously lately benefited Kallis. Sobers had not the benefit of that. However, how may times would the latter have been run out in tight situations? Nobody knows really. Sobers batted down the order behind some of the best batsmen in the world. Conclusion: it is virtually impossible to compare players of different eras. With ref to the Aussies scoring over 300 to win at the Wand in Nov 2011, I can as a South African tell you that it was due to another true great of the game: one R. Ponting. Believe me, I was there.

Posted by Beertjie on (July 25, 2012, 12:48 GMT)

An excellent nuanced article, as usual. As someone who is not a South African supporter (but who lives there) I have noticed how good they are when challenged by good teams. They won in Oz in 2008 and will likely win there again this year. They won in England in 2008 and will certainly do so again. As Rob presciently writes "they're running out of time to bring their nation's cricket to fulfilment" because once Kallis's fantastic physique-cum skill begins to falter, they will no longer be able to impose their will on their opponents. I know he want's to have a final crack at a World Cup, but that may be a step too far. However in that kind of competition they too may triumph in Oz in 2015 and finally shed the choker tag. Of course the steely-mindedness to become #1 and remains there will be there too, but it will take a better team than that currently possessed by their two closest rivals to knock them off (except temporarily).

Posted by teo. on (July 25, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

@boston_pride... relax buddy. It was a convincing win. I think you are the last person on this planet who believes they are 'chokers' now. Take it easy, enjoy the series. Its only a game.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (July 25, 2012, 12:28 GMT)

boston_pride: Test cricket is different to ODI cricket and different players are involved. This TEST team won series in Australia and England away, hardly the mark of 'chokers'.

Posted by RockcityGuy on (July 25, 2012, 11:39 GMT)

two conspicuously missing names....AB for SA and COOK for england...strauss prior etc. have no hope of breaking any record....COOK does...not just english records but world records...:-)

Posted by Meety on (July 25, 2012, 11:02 GMT)

@ StaalBurgher - batting was easier during Sobers time, hence MOST S/Rates were above 60 in those days, & very good spinners had S/Rates well above 80. Kallis is a great player, he is without doubt the most prolific player in the history of the game, which is testimony to both skill & longevity. In terms of being a PURE allrounder, ( a player being able to have been selected as a specialist bowler or batsmen), Kallis is well behind Sobers, Miller & Khan, all of which could easily been selected as a bowler or batsmen. That though, is NOT an insult to Kallis. The other facet to Kallis's overall renown, is he is a brilliant slips fielder, a bloke I cannot ever recall dropping a catch!

Posted by boston_pride on (July 25, 2012, 10:45 GMT)

Where is all this 'MOSES TOUCH' when it comes to a multi-national tournament?? Where are the silverwares to show for?? Ultimately, SA have been the perennial bridesmaid... Always a bridesmaid, never a bride... One test victory and a brief No. 1 ranking doesnt change the fact that they are a bunch of chokers who can never handle pressure

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 10:36 GMT)

I wonder aloud whether next year's Almanack (the 150th) will finally award the long overdue accolade of a Wisden Cricketer of the Year to Jacques Kallis? It would be difficult to defend if not... I suspect that SA will win narrowly at Leeds while England will win (also narrowly) at Lord's probably because Finn and Compton will be playing... I also think Andrew Strauss will mark his 100th test with a century just as he did on debut.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (July 25, 2012, 9:54 GMT)

A thought-provoking article, Rob - thank you. IMO, greatness, or evidence of greatness arises from the universal judgement of sound and discriminating critics relating to a particular performance by a particular player. The specific occasion of the greatness has to relate to the immediate AND the wider context of the contest (a Test match in which the series is still undecided is the obvious example here) for it to be considered great. There are many, many players who have had great days, but that solitary day in the sun does not a great player make (Watson '53; Massie '72). There has to be an indeterminate number of great performances from X that, through the sheer impact of most of them, alter the course of a match in a way that could hardly have been foreseen before that perfomance began. Then we have the great player, no question. So many fans base their argument for/agnst greatness simply on stats divorced from context. That cannot be right, cannot be a sound method or argument..

Posted by analyseabhishek on (July 25, 2012, 9:25 GMT)

One thing that seems overlooked is that this might just be the test which should put Kallis equal-if not better- than Gary Sobers. The unbeaten 182 combined with 2 top order wickets in England's first innings to precipitate a collapse- especially the way he got KP just one over before the new ball by bowling 3 short pitched balls.

It is hard to imagine that South Africa have never been a consistent no 1 side or despite the presence of a player who is one of the most solid batsmen ever along with an extremely effective 5th bowler for his team.

Posted by ofthedeepbluesea on (July 25, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

@paul dawson

Curious comment yet typical of predominantly English and Australian followers who have difficulty with Kallis and his standing in world cricket. As to whether he is the greatest might be open to debate but his greatness is hardly in doubt. As your comment seems to relate specifically to him, your reference to "some whose greatness is seriously questionable'' is somewhat misplaced. The last two lines beggar belief...

Posted by StaalBurgher on (July 25, 2012, 8:58 GMT)

@ at faceless Facebook bro - That my friend is your opinion. Kallis is a true great of the game without a doubt. People are so quick with their double standards. This old argument that Sobers is better because his batting avg was achieved under more difficult conditions than Kallis plays right around into making Kallis a far superior bowler than Sobers. Kallis SR of 68 (which has increased significantly as he has aged) while Sobers was 91... that isn't even in the same ball park. Given the supposedly easier bowling conditions Sobers was dobbler in comparison to Kallis who would've been a frontline bowler for many sides. Not to mention that for the longest time Kallis played in a struggling SA side against arguably the two greatest spinners of all time not too mention the rampant Aussies. No matter how you spin your "soft" factors and the context Kallis is at the least as great as Sobers and there is a lot of extenuating factors to value him even higher.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 8:14 GMT)

The Moses touch? Never heard of that before. Did you mean Midas?

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 8:02 GMT)

Insightful article. It used to be easy to define a batsman as "great" if he had a Test career average of 50 or more. These days, that hurdle is being crossed by some whose greatness is seriously questionable. The comment about figures showing Kallis to be the greatest all-rounder also shows the flaw of dependence on figures. Wonderful player though Kallis is, Sobers still takes the top spot. Their comparative batting strengths are debatable, but for bowling quality, who would choose Kallis over Sobers? A judge once ruled that pornography is "easily recognised, less easily defined". Perhaps that applies to cricketing greatness also.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 7:30 GMT)

Another fantastic article. You remain one of my favorite cricket writers, Rob. Great stuff.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 7:04 GMT)

Superb and inspired writing Rob. As SouthPaw says, it is essential for South Africa to push through and win the series if the special victory at The Oval is to mean anything.

Posted by SamRoy on (July 25, 2012, 6:08 GMT)

Rob, only Pietersen, in the current England team is a great player. Others are world class all right but not great. In adversity, they cannot raise their game one level higher. In due time, if Finn fulfills his potential, he will become a great player. Finn can become a bowler like Ambrose or Garner.

Posted by SouthPaw on (July 25, 2012, 6:00 GMT)

In all the accolades and analysis that you have presented Rob Steen, only the last bit matters - Can South Africa hold their nerve or will they collapse like Adam Scott at the last mile?

Comments have now been closed for this article

Email Feedback Print
Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination"

    Every innings is an act of courage

Simon Barnes: Phillip Hughes' death was desperately unlucky, and it came in the courageous pursuit of sporting excellence

The country kid who moved a nation

It was a matter of time before Phillip Hughes cemented his spot in the Australian Test team. Then, improbably and inconsolably, his time ran out. By Daniel Brettig

Inzamam had a lot of time to play his shots

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss Inzy's technique

    'If I'd stayed captain, Bangladesh would have done better'

Habibul Bashar talks about the team's early days, landmark wins, and the current squad

Why cricket needs women's Tests

Raf Nicholson: Apart from the fact that they are exciting, intense encounters, getting rid of them will only spell doom for the format itself

News | Features Last 7 days

Phillip Hughes: Gone too soon

The cricket world reacts to the passing away of Phillip Hughes

Phillip Hughes: Country kid who moved a nation

Likeable, hard-working and skilful, it was a matter of time before Phillip Hughes cemented his spot in the Australian Test team. Then, improbably and inconsolably, his time ran out

Hope for Hughes, feel for Abbott

It is impossible to imagine how Sean Abbott must feel after sending down that bouncer to Phillip Hughes. While the cricket world hopes for Hughes' recovery, it should also ensure Abbott is supported

November games need November prices

An early start to the international season, coupled with costly tickets, have kept the Australian public away from the cricket

Phillip Hughes

News | Features Last 7 days