December 29, 2013

Goodbye to two old-school players

Jacques Kallis and Graeme Swann are very different off the field, but they contributed to their teams in similar, impressive fashions

In the last few days the game has lost what even the most demanding northern England league cricket supporter would describe as "a couple of good 'uns".

The abrupt retirement and ensuing Twitter controversy told us much about the quirky personality of England's highly successful offspinner, Graeme Swann. On the field he was as traditional as they come: an old-school offie who relied on curve and drop from a hard-spun delivery and a simple "straight one", all delivered with a pleasingly clean action in an era where most offspinners lean heavily on the style of Paul Simon's "One-Trick Pony" - "a herky-jerky motion".

Off the field, so I'm told, Swann was an inveterate stirrer with his Twitter observations and eccentric originality, which produced his Ashes celebration "sprinkler dance".

In an era of bland interviews and highly controlled sporting media conferences, Swann will be missed as much for his originality of thought as he will be for his highly efficient offspin.

Just days after Swann's controversial retirement, the game lost the calm and clinical efficiency of the most successful allrounder in Test history, when South Africa's Jacques Kallis pronounced his departure with all the fanfare of an airline announcement. Kallis left the game in the same way he graced it; with no fuss, no controversy, and a lot of dignity. In years to come, as they gaze upon the cold, hard statistics, young cricket fans will wonder what the old-timers were gushing about when they said Garry Sobers is the best cricketer of all time.

Kallis' record is phenomenal. There is no one, not even the highly gifted Sobers, who can match him for statistical all-round efficiency. In Test cricket alone he averaged in the mid-fifties with the bat, bowled at a lively pace to capture nearly 300 victims, and completed 200 catches. Most cricketers would leave the game smugly satisfied with any one of those achievements to their name.

Kallis played with such clinical efficiency that his statistical success crept up on you like a father playing hide-and-seek with his kids. His batting, full of aesthetically pleasing cover drives and powerful pull shots, relied on technical efficiency and consistency rather than headline-grabbing starring roles. Whereas Sobers made news with six sixes in a first-class over, Kallis was a postscript in a match report: "Oh, and incidentally Kallis made a sound century, batting all day to dig his team out of a deep hole."

Kallis never took control of a game when he batted but there was a period in the mid-2000s when it looked like he had mastered it. Even during this period of high-scoring consistency, he was as low-profile as the average MI5 agent. The only information you could glean about the man was what you found in the scorebooks.

However, Kallis' influence in the South African dressing room was far greater than what his glitteringly ample record shows. He was as old-time as cricketers come; enjoying a beer after stumps and readily available if a younger team-mate needed advice or counselling.

By all reports he was a team-mate to be valued, but the only time this was revealed publicly was when his good friend Mark Boucher suffered a career-ending eye injury. Kallis then offered a rare public insight into his feelings but quickly reverted to type by allowing his bat to speak volumes; his first Test innings after Boucher's injury was a clinically constructed century dedicated to his close pal.

Swann and Kallis might be poles apart in personality but in one thing they were closely allied - as cricketers they were distinctly old-school. Swann eschewed a funky action and gimmicky deliveries, relying purely on good old-fashioned guile and guts to bamboozle his opponents. In an era of intense media scrutiny, Kallis defied the odds to become cricket's statistical superstar while remaining a virtual unknown.

Apart from being distinctly old-school, they have one other thing in common - the game will sorely miss them both.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Clavers on January 1, 2014, 0:26 GMT

    @GermanPlayer: Yes, I know a lower bowling average beats a higher one. I wasn't saying Sobers comes out ahead of Kallis on bowling average; he doesn't. I pointing out some other factors in the comparison. I agree Kallis has been a fantastic player, but I disagree with Ian Chappell and rate Sobers ahead of him, despite the higher bowling average. Sobers comes out ahead on batting average, batting strike rate, bowling variety, bowling endurance and fielding.

    Part of the role of a batting all-rounder or fifth bowler is to let the captain rest the strike bowlers when needed to keep them sharp: Hall and Griffiths in the case of Sobers, Donald and Steyn in the case of Kallis, Lee and Johnson in the case of Shane Watson. So the more overs the all-rounder can safely bowl, the more resources he gives the captain.

    Kallis by the way out-points Watson in this regard, bowling 12.4 overs per innings vs 10.4 for Watson, although Watson has a slightly better bowling average.

  • David_1946 on December 31, 2013, 19:55 GMT

    Forget Kallis and Sobers, the greatest ever cricketer was Bradman. The Don was a one-man colossus who single-handedly won matches, or at least wrested the momentum his team's way to the point where their position was unassailable, in more than half the tests that he played. Every great player like Dravid or Laxman has a 'Kolkota performance', but Don played series-deciding innings in EVERY Ashes rubber between 1930 and 1948 (except bodyline). What's even more remarkable is that allrounders get two opportunities (batting, bowling) to impact a match, whereas Don had only one. Bodyline cut his average to 56 and strike rate to 75; but perhaps the greatest testimony was in 1938 when Hammond avoided declaring even with 900 runs on the board until it was confirmed that an injured Don wouldn't bat! Jacques Kallis is a modern superstar, and Sir Gary is one of the 5 best batsmen I've ever seen, but nobody has dominated cricket and outperformed his contemporaries by the margin that Don did.

  • peter56 on December 31, 2013, 19:44 GMT

    TheCricketeer :It is a myth that the SAFFA batting was over dependent on JHK. just check the scorecards. on many occasions it was Boucher coming in at 7, Pollock at 8,and Klusener at 9.!! has there ever been a stronger 7,8,9 in test cricket??? Am I forgetting Bryan Mcmillan.JHk only provided 14% of South Africa's Runs during his 166 tests. Way down the lists not even in the top 25. Sobers on the other hand provided 16% of Windies runs scored during his 93. Lara held the Windies batting together far more heroically than JHK did for SA. He contributed almost 19% of WINDIES runs in his 130 tests for them, third in the all time list behind only Bradman and Headley.

  • dummy4fb on December 31, 2013, 16:15 GMT

    Its really hard to cheer against South Africa with JK in the team. He is a model cricketer and I'm glad he got to live his life the way he wanted to, just by being a cricketer and not a celebrity. I wish him the best of luck with his ODI aspriations and if South Africa are not playing Australia in the final, will be cheering for them.

  • Drew2 on December 31, 2013, 12:16 GMT

    I do agree that Kallis was an exceptional allrounder. Where he falls below a few other great allrounders, notably Gary Sobers, was his ability to win matches. There were times that he defended his wicket too much with a declaration imminent. His strike rate was a lot lower than other great batsman of his era. I constantly got the impression that he batted for his average. Ian Botham was the polar opposite. He had no regard for averages and his batting average was well below Kallis, but he turned Test matches around in the blink of an eye. Winning Tests should always come before batting records.

  • dummy4fb on December 31, 2013, 9:39 GMT

    @ The Cricketer : How many great Fast Bowlers or Spinners did Kallis face compared to Gary Sobers . Just because he was a batting all rounder, you cannot underplay the other four bowling all rounders (that's a joke???) who were great match winners and savers for their Country and they all played in the era of Holding,Lillee, Roberts at all.

  • dummy4fb on December 31, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    Very surprising that whenever discussion of The Greatest All-Rounder / Cricketer comes, people pitch in with Sobers & Kallis..

    These 2 are the Batting All-Rounders.. I pitch for Imran Khan, a Bowling All-Rounder.. I'm an Indian, & the Cricketer I have always admired is Imran Khan..

    Batting avg of 37, Bowling avg of 22, thats a ratio of 1.7 as good as Kallis or Sobers.. In the 2nd half of his career, when he was Captain (48 tests out of 88), he had a Batting avg of 52, & Bowling avg of 20, ratio of 2.6..

    Even phenomenal is an understatement.. His Batting style was compact, he owned responsibility, could switch gears and attack.. His Bowling was fast, furious, lethal.. And his Captaincy was inspirational, won the World Cup, held the mighty Windies to draws in Test series.. His legacy is best observed in numerous fast bowlers that Pakistan produces despite lack of proper infrastructure..

    What else one needs, to consider him in the same frame as the other 2, if not higher..

  • sanjaykk on December 31, 2013, 6:46 GMT

    without thinking about quirks of test match innings. Tendulkar was and is still the biggest ticket in australia. if you have read the article on, tendulkar could be the trump card we need in australia to keep the world cup. He can still get the job done. 40's are the new 30's for sportman people. With indian collapse overseas have become too common, we need him for the world cup. If imran khan can do it so does sachin! I urge all the folks and fans of cricinfo to petition to bring back sachin for one dayers! We need him for world cup god damn it. We cant be down 10/2 chasing 275 in australia( which part of this you folks cant understand?). Test match is for people who have lot of time on their hands and purists. it is irrelevant in modern era. There is no trophy attached to it. Did anybody notice empty stadiums in this series? It is one dayes that india needs to win and keep! India has lot of work to do and time is short! They have train to catch! who is with me here?

  • sanjaykk on December 31, 2013, 6:41 GMT

    kallis is good but he aint a sobers period. And my maan tendulkar is head and shoulder above all( if i am in mood i will put don beside him. Ah aussies disagree). don never faced square turners and was not known for grind it out batting. HE was more like run away train like some of the aussie batsman are( clarke comes to my mind, so did ponting). He also had measure of the opposition as they played each other a lot and on mostly same set of pitches. But that was the sign of times. But he was still great. you just cant go by averages people. The straight drive of sachin is nonpareil period. Tendulkar was robbed of lot of glory in 90's due to either pathetic indian batting or club quality bowling! It was only my man ganguly who changed it for good! Despite all that tendulkar still had 100 centuries and missed out 27 others! come to think of it, tendulkar should have done like jack. REtire from meaningless test matches and focus on one dayers. Here he could just bat for 2 hours without

  • sanjaykk on December 31, 2013, 6:37 GMT

    .. He should get a look in. How well that boy performed in england and he gets the boot all the time. He can open and do the job if dhawan cannot do it. gautam is useless in australia and so is shewag( both fish outside the offstump!). India needs to plan to defend the world cup. we cannot give it away easily this time. We need some one to bat full innings and pujara or even rahane fits the bill here. Raina and yuvraj needs to get there act together or they have to be shown the door. It is just pathetic not to face bouncers. you should practice on concrete from half the pitch and must dare the ball on the body without the helmet so that you get some steel to face these bowls. With 2 bouncers allowed india has lost advantage in one dayers. They need a better plan. They have few things going for them however: some great stroke players,fielding is good and couple of match winning bowlers. They need to strengthen the weak links. chain is as strong as its weaklest link remember?