Jacques Kallis and 12 other Great South African All-rounders September 10, 2013

Celebrating South Africa's two-in-ones

A new book looks at a baker's dozen of the country's finest allrounders

South Africa's manufacturing industry is still considered to be in a phase of development but there is one part of the country's production line that has always delivered: the assembly line that turns out allrounders. Multi-skilled cricketers have always been an asset and South Africa has produced them seemingly at will.

A baker's dozen are celebrated in a new work entitled Jacques Kallis and 12 other Great South African All-rounders. Ali Bacher and David Williams have compiled a chapter each on 13 players who they deem to be the best South African two-in-ones, while they also pay tribute to others who can lay claim to the title.

In the introduction a statistical analysis - with criteria including number of runs scored, wickets taken, and matches played - argues that, to date, there have only been 42 genuine allrounders in the history of Test cricket. Garry Sobers, who Bacher regards as the "greatest cricketer of all time", tops the list and is followed by Jacques Kallis. The rest include six South Africans, eight Australians, and ten Englishmen (among them Tony Greig, who features as one of the chosen 13 here, though he played his Test cricket for England).

Numbers continue to provide interesting nuggets: Aubrey Faulkner's 732 runs in the five-Test series against Australia in 1910-11 still stands as the record for the most runs by a South African in a series, and Trevor Goddard's economy of 1.64 makes him the most miserly bowler of all time in Test cricket (among those who have played more than ten Tests).

A lot of the text contains already known stories - Clive Rice's exploits for Transvaal, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener's reverence for Malcolm Marshall, Kallis' initial resistance to T20 - and borrows heavily from Wisden reports in recounting performances.

The personal touch comes from Bacher, who either played with or against or as an administrator dealt with ten of the 13 players. Bacher interviewed the seven who are still alive and extracted interesting tales, particularly from Mike Proctor - like the one about how he hit Bacher on the head - and Brian McMillan, who once unsettled Allan Border by blowing him a kiss.

Those not around to provide anecdotes are remembered in touching ways: there are 17 jokes from Tiger Lance, and an account of a visit to St Augustine's Cricket Club to learn more about Basil d'Oliveira. Bacher was due to interview Greig but the scheduled appointment was on the day he passed away. However, before his death, Greig gave Bacher permission to tell the tale of why he spent so much time off the field in a match between Eastern Province and Transvaal at the Wanderers in November 1970.

Greig keeled over on the field and Bacher, who was playing in the game and is a doctor, issued him with a valium injection. At the time, Charles Fortune, the broadcaster, said Greig had suffered a sunstroke. Years later, it was revealed that Grieg had had an epileptic fit and hoped it would be made public to "give people with epilepsy a sense of what they can achieve". The book mentions a "fit" but does not go further.

In skirting clear of things apart from statistical analysis in this way, the writing becomes staid. For a cricket geek, it would be a perfect read but for those who interest extends to the context of the game, this may miss the spot, because the book's focus is narrow.

The book is also limited in its appeal since it encompasses only a certain section of South Africans. Given the country's apartheid history, thousands of non-white players were denied the opportunity to notch up feats worthy of being published in this book. Bacher recognised that the story would be incomplete without the inclusion of the best of the rest, so to speak, and commissioned Krish Reddy, a cricket historian based in KwaZulu-Natal, to choose players of colour who ought to get a mention.

Reddy picked Taliep Sallie, a legspinning allrounder, Gesant Abed, Cecil Abrahams, and Sulaiman Abed, all three seam-bowling allrounders. Not much is known about these men in mainstream cricket writing apart from some stray anecdotes: Clarrie Grimmett once remarked that Sallie would find a place in any international side, and Sulaiman had a successful stint at Lancashire. This book does not add much beyond that.

The four players receive less than five pages between them in the chapter that focuses on d'Oliveira. It was a noble idea to make room for them but the limited space offered to the quartet could easily be perceived as insulting. Alternatively, it may also open the door for some debate about the best way to record South Africa's divided cricketing history.

The main aim of this book is to spark a discussion about South Africa's best allrounder. The numbers and information contained may trigger a more robust conversation on the subject, and will leave some wanting to see if, when Kallis retires, his stats put him above Sobers. It's interesting that Sobers' own foreword to the book makes the point that, on occasion, comparisons between cricketers can be considered odious, and celebrating individuals for who they are may be more worthwhile.

Jacques Kallis and 12 other Great South African All-rounders
by Ali Bacher and David Wiliams
Penguin Books
236 pages, R230

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Varnendra on September 14, 2013, 18:14 GMT

    @ Prabhakar Muthukrishnan, you started well but how can Kapildev be better than Ian Botham? Even in fielding Botham was very good. Kallis is not an allrounder at all; he fails to tick many boxes; first he is not entertaining nor exciting; then he doesn't score fast enough to put pressure on the opposition; then his cross bat shots are never convincing nor beautiful; he can bowl really well but he rarely bowled oppositions out. And it is non sense to say Sobers is the greatest. Don Bradman is the greatest ever sportsman by a million miles.

  • Shyam on September 12, 2013, 23:45 GMT

    @Liquefierrrr, Understand what you are saying but Sobers was a better bowler than you make out, even though he did underperform a little as a bowler in his career, possibly due to the captaincy and he took a while to find himself as a bowler in test cricket (he was an top order batsman when he started out and moved to 6 later). There were other factors involved, which is why you can't purely look at a number and say he is this good or that good. Anderson averages 30 with the ball but I reckon he will be remembered as a better bowler than that and Warne averages 25/26 to Murali's 22. Does that mean Murali is unquestionably the best spinner ever? Dont think so, a deeper discussion is needed

    Also, Sobers had 230+ wickets when he retired, which is pretty impressive considering the record at the time was around 310. Not bad for a 'half decent' bowler.

    But agree that Bradman was the best batsman ever and I think Sobers and Kallis are both pretty good all-rounders for whatever that's worth.

  • Dummy4 on September 12, 2013, 10:35 GMT

    South Africa has never received the world's admiration for its cricket so I say well done to Ali Bacher. Why shouldn't SA put its own in CAPITALS. Currently we have two test teams that might be one & two on the world rankings. Just check our ENGLAND COUNTY CRICKET TEAM. Lumb, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, McKenzie,(c) Prince, Hall, Prior,(w) Berg, Dernbach & Groenewald. We would make plenty of runs so that Trott & Pietersen could do some bowling.

  • Dummy4 on September 12, 2013, 10:23 GMT

    Why no mention of Alan Davidson??. During his brief at the game he was a powerhouse player. Perhaps one can also add that cricket recently has included 2nd raters like Zimbabwe & Bangladesh. But in saying so one must npt forget West Indies were useless once too. India & Pakistan also took a while to come "up to scratch" Sri Lanka were for a long time "frot". South Africa stared really poorly allowing "world records" that still stand. Finally TEST CRICKET is between countries and no other criteria should exist. England verses Combined NSW & Victoria, England verses combined Cape Province/ Transvaal should be scrapped. In fact the first tests between England & Ozz should only be from 26th January 1901, and those between England & SA only from 31st May 1910. These countries did not exist before those dates. Will someone rewrite the WISDEN RECORDS WITHOUT THESE STATISTICS SO WE CAN MAKE MATTERS CORRECT

  • Paul on September 11, 2013, 22:04 GMT

    Please! The title of this book and the way it's printed is an insult. Big pic of Kallis on the cover. If you only read the words in large type it reads "Jacques Kallis Great Allrounder." I think somebody is a little miffed that Kallis doesn't get the recognition they think he deserves. Even "South African" is in small type, when it's the most important concept of the book.

  • Dayne on September 11, 2013, 2:08 GMT

    @Craptastic - so his 57 average during a period of tough batting is better, fine, thus his bowling average of 34, in the very time you say batting was tough (thus bowling was easy) is even worse. So if we make allowance for Sobers' batting average then we must mark harder his bowling. Can't have one without the other.

    The score I gave was purely for context, golf is not my sport. If we use 66 then Tiger would have to go around in 41.

    Once more - it is irrelevant how many types of bowling Sobers could perform if the end result was a 34 average in an era that was tough for batting. That end figure is just that. People get carried away as Sobers was a freak who batted aggressively in an era of English stodge, so he stood out and was amazing. Lump in an ability to bowl half-decently and people are impressed.

    My only argument is that Bradman is the best cricketer and sportsperson ever. I tied this in by saying Kallis is close to Sobers to provide context.

  • Dayne on September 11, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    @(September 10, 2013, 9:41 GMT) - I refer to the records section of Statsguru for averages:


    I cut the mark at 2,000 runs as Pujara will not hold that average. Thus his average is 63.92% higher than his next closest (RG Pollock) and even if we count Pujara (which we shouldn't) it's 52.46% higher. So you are wrong there. My figure of 60% was actually (and knowingly) less than the real figure to further my point.

    Sobers bowled at 34 in a period where pitches were goat-tracks, so a 34 average, regardless of how many styles he used to achieve it, is just that and is average.

    Your 'critique' of my critique is severely flawed.

    My point still remains, obviously, so Sobers only really has the jump on Kallis in terms of captaincy, as Kallis is an excellent slips fielder.

    Bowling at 34 doth not make the best all-rounder, regardless of his batting feats.

  • Shyam on September 10, 2013, 23:17 GMT

    @NBZ1, mate very valid points and I agree with them, although I would say ramadhin was a spent force when sobers played with him and Griffith only played 28 tests. Also ntini was at his peak at that period and I don't know how I missed him in my first comment

    My point was not about who was better the better player out of the two, just that stats aren't the be all and end all. Imagine a team with both of them!

  • Dummy4 on September 10, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    It continues to remain one of cricket's greatest mysteries as to why SA with its legion of all rounders have never been able to win any silverware in ICC events. There was a time when they had Kallis, Pollock and Klusner, not to forget the likes of Nickie Boje and Hansie Cronje who were capable of being called all rounders, all playing together, at least in the shorter formats. Leave alone winning a world cup, they have not even been able to enter a final since their reentry in 1992.

  • Dummy4 on September 10, 2013, 17:54 GMT

    In cricket a lot of times it is not "how many you scored or bowled" but " how you scored or bowled or fielded".Sobers was a delight to watch. His graceful and athletic movements meant that he could have excelled in any sport. Kallis for all his batting cannot match Sobers for the simple reason that Sobers could turn matches on its head in a couple of sessions with his bat. Kallis has never and will never do that. Plus his athleticism made him a superb all round fielder. The only other all rounder who would come close to Sobers in the all round fielding dept is Kapil Dev. Sobers was an entertainer who could fill up stadiums, while also winning matches for his country. No offense meant but can Kallis for all his greatness do that?

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