December 30, 2013

Kallis' legacy ranks with the best

He had seven phases to his Test career, and at the end of them he is fit to rank alongside the very greatest

Jacques Kallis: absolute dedication, supreme belief, utter skill, devout hard work Neil Lane / © ESPNcricinfo

To never see Jacques Kallis again in a Test match will take a while to comprehend, especially since he has stroked another fine century. Fittingly, he will depart the Test arena in the most perfect way - on top of his game and in complete command. It will be a wonderful final memory for all those who have had the privilege to watch him, and especially worked with him. Many superlatives will be attributed to him over the coming days, and rightly so. Kallis broke many barriers and stood alone as the modern age's all-round Adonis, handsomely gifted with a god-given talent.

His record is simply sensational. Therefore it is worth assessment, and makes for fascinating analysis. For a career that has lasted 18 years, it's noteworthy to highlight seven periods: four difficult ones and three irrepressible ones.

As a 20-year-old, Kallis appeared overawed, his first five Tests reaping an average of just 8. Two years in, in his seventh match, he registered his first Test century, at the MCG, to boost a shaky confidence.

It was slow progress. By the end of his first 20 Tests, his return was only two centuries and an average of just about 32, still short of his first 1000 runs. His bowling was keeping him going as a useful contributor - after 25 Tests he had 42 wickets at about 39 apiece. While the potential for bigger brighter horizons were never in doubt, the question was when would it transfer into something significant. The Rainbow Nation needed a transformation. It received it in rugby in 1995 from Nelson Mandela, and from Francois Pienaar when he lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy. The national summer sport needed an injection of the same antidote, and the effort would be led by Jacques Kallis.

Many players have been discarded after such sluggish starts, yet for Kallis there was an all-round component and a growing belief in what might come. Over the next phase, from his 21st Test onwards, the first of three unbelievable run sprees, he emerged as a truly great player of his time.

Maybe it was those initial six Tests that shaped the Kallis way, the removal of risk and the utter devotion to technique and mental preparation. Maybe those early failures instilled a fierce desire to not fail like that again, and when in, to cash in huge. Maybe it would set the gear he would choose to bat in: assured, calm, and safe as a bank.

Cash in he did. In his next 78 Tests, he banked a little under 7000 runs at about 64, scoring 22 centuries. By the time he had reached 98 Tests, his average was a massive 57 almost, with 24 hundreds rubber-stamping his appetite for big scores. Additionally, he had captured nearly 200 Test wickets at 31 to support a claim that he was closing in on the superhuman Garry Sobers, perennially regarded the greatest of all allrounders.

This rich vein of form was cleverly constructed and magnificently compiled. Kallis played in a way that was systematic and controlled; he never blinked an eyelid, his heart rate seemed to hardly go up. It was like he was robotically programmed to conquer the world and dismantle all attacks, retaining all function and power no matter the challenges. What he did was machine-like.

Kallis played with a consistent routine, mentally and technically. His stance simple, body side-on, then a slight back-foot step and a tiny opening of the front foot to set his balance, while his hands positioned the bat, pointing just past off stump at a controlled height. Everything he did was measured and correct. The result being sure footwork, steady balance and a smooth, fluent flow through the stroke. Straight and late. Unhurried. As was his mind.

Yet he very rarely, in this first period of complete dominance, played an innings of sheer, outrageous splendour or irresistible force or abandon, or even gorged himself on a massive double or more (his highest was 189); he just batted in a gear that was methodically safe. If there was any slight criticism, it was the perception that he couldn't change the course of a game in a hurry, couldn't move out of his favourite gear and accelerate a match in his team's favour quickly enough.

As Kallis approached his ton of Tests, he stalled for the first time in a long time, his second tough phase. He somehow managed to not score a hundred in the next nine matches, his average dropping a few notches. The odd doubt came and went, yet he kept the difficult period short when he lurched back into action with twin tons in his 108th Test, against Pakistan in Karachi in 2007. From there he posted six centuries in 11 matches. In the second surge of his career he was simply unstoppable, again. Then he struck a new distraction - the Indian Premier League.

I had the privilege of working with him at Bangalore in 2008, when the IPL began. However, it was clear he was exhausted and spent due to six consecutive Tests and a lot of batting in a short period in sapping conditions. The adrenaline needed for the IPL, with the constant travel and attention, let alone the new way of playing, took even more of a toll on him.

I found Jacques to be a true gent. He was humble and civil in all he did. He never complained, and was happy to ignore the temptation to find an excuse. He was the model pro, someone you could work with. And very easy to sit with and converse on life, cricket and stuff. It was neat to hang with the man for a short period.

Kallis played in a way that was systematic and controlled; he never blinked an eyelid, his heart rate seemed to hardly go up. It was like he was robotically programmed to conquer the world and dismantle all attacks, retaining all function and power no matter the challenges

After IPL 1, Kallis hit a third rough little patch and struggled for another 12 Tests, with no reward, no pleasure on any front, with only four fifties in 19 innings. By the start of 2010, Kallis had shrugged off his run-scoring hiatus and found another gear; in fact he found a few. Interestingly, the IPL forced him to play more expansively, and once he had recharged his batteries and hunger, he went on to an extraordinary run of scores. This time he seemed armed with a new wisdom on expanding his game. We witnessed a turbo-charged century-maker finding a new, more urgent, execution. Actually he went utterly ballistic. All bowlers were nailed by this new stupendous swordsman. The Jacques blade was on fire.

From Tests 131 to 156, in 44 innings over an aggressively sustained period, he stroked and slaughtered another 14 centuries. The third, and final, wind of his mighty career was astronomical. It caused a ripple effect all around the world as the call came out that the supremo himself, Sobers, had been matched once and for all. Kallis was no longer a modern-day marvel, he was an all-time universal master, free to sit among the gods.

On 156 Tests, with 44 sublime hundreds alongside, his astonishing ratio of a hundred every 3.5 Tests or one every six innings, was sufficient to conquer Tendulkar, Ponting and Dravid (but alas not quite Sir Don). That says it all. All of this while taking close to 300 Test wickets and 200 Test catches to boot. Mind-boggling.

After November 2012, Kallis stumbled, a sign that age and exhaustion had caught up. His form dropped - no hundreds and only three fifties in 15 innings - mirroring his opening 15 innings of 18 years ago, when it all began. Until Durban this week. When he conjured up one more masterpiece, his 45th century, and rubber-stamped his true class.

Eighteen years of Jacques Kallis; absolute dedication, supreme belief, utter skill, devout hard work, phenomenal concentration. Add to that his composure in the dressing room and his consistency of endeavour everywhere he went. He has fashioned a legacy that will live in the top echelon forever. He will sit alongside Sobers as the finest all-round cricketer who played the game.

All in all, he has taken on a gigantic number of challenges, and there will be no doubt all around the world when it is said that Kallis learned a great deal from them and conquered them all, one by one, with the precision of any of the greatest performers.

South Africa will bid farewell to their greatest Test player with enormous gratitude.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on January 2, 2014, 18:36 GMT

    Kallis and Sobers. Sobers and Kallis. There is no debate. There are not sufficient grounds for debate. There are not enough between them to determine which was better. For every perceived rating criteria, an opposing one may be employed. For every opinion on one side, there is an opinion on the other. All is conjecture. All else is pointless posturing on behalf of some agenda. Random criteria such as "strike rate" are as applicable as the colour of their underwear! They cannot be separated, and it is pointless to try.

    There is only the single fact that they are the two greatest cricketers of all time - period. No others achieved as much on the field of play. No others mastered all the disciplines of the game as did they. No others batted, bowled and fielded with the same acumen. No others scaled the heights they did.

    Kallis and Sobers. Sobers and Kallis. The greatest cricketers to grace the game. There is no debate, just this simple, inescapable fact.

  • David on January 2, 2014, 18:23 GMT

    @ Gopalakrishnan Balasubramanian writes "It is conveniently forgotten that Kallis played most of his cricket in South Africa, which is where he has played all his life and has scored most of his centuries…"

    It is not forgotten that Kallis played 10 more matches in SA than on tour: 88 in SA, 78 outside of SA. It is not forgotten that Kallis played a slight majority of his matches in the country which, according to in depth analysis by cricinfo stats editor S. Rajesh, it is MOST DIFFICULT to score runs. Yes, during his career Kallis scored his runs where it is MOST DIFFICULT to score runs, & not where it is easy to score runs. He did not play where huge run records are amassed on dead flat, lifeless pitches, but on the lively, bouncy, most difficult to score on tracks in the world!

    This does not "put down" Kallis' achievements, but elevates them even further. What it also shows is the huge gap between the class of his batting, and that of the "flat track specialists!"

  • David on January 2, 2014, 17:53 GMT

    @ Gopalakrishnan Balasubramanian writes "by the way, Kallis' batting strike rate is also abysmal along with that of Dravid, which is why Sachin and Ponting are considered greater batsmen than these two...The stats gurus of this world, choose to conveniently ignore this fact.."

    All this means, Gopalakrishnan, is that Sachin & Ponting were hasty. They got out more often that Kallis, which is why their averages are lower. Kallis was more reliable - he stayed around to finish things, & was not easily dismissed. We are not talking T20 here!

    Sachin & Ponting might be considered greater batsmen by some, but they conveniently ignore the fact that Kallis had the better average - the base line of a batsman's record.

    Put it this way: 205 batsmen had a better SR than Ponting, 209 had a better SR than Bradman, and 309 had a better SR than Tendulkar! According to you, we should not conveniently ignore this fact, and conclude that Tendulkar lies at number 310 on the list of great batsmen.

  • Phillip on January 2, 2014, 14:55 GMT

    Some stats and comments for you all to chew on:

    >>> Kallis still holds the record for the fastest 50 in Test Cricket.

    >>> If you want to start extrapolating, don't - rather look at the comparison between List A v ODI and First Class v Test - you will see a much better relationship. The only problem Sober followers will have with this, is that GS Sobers looks more like a bowling all rounder in List A than a complete all rounder. Make from it what you want.

    The following comment will probably p-off the whole cricketing community and mostly the Aus one. Not that they do not like doing it to others ... >>> Bradman was not as good as everyone makes him out to be - he only batted in 2 countries, Australia and England and played most of his cricket against 1 country, England.

    Stats and numbers do not tell you everything, perception most of the time does

  • Joe on January 1, 2014, 17:30 GMT

    Great article. Yes, Jacques Kallis is one of my favorite cricketers, a magnificent all rounder. Very good indeed. Far superior than the other's like Imran, Botham, Hadlee and Kapil Dev.

    Now, when we start talking about who is the greatest all rounder of all time, then it is like comparing apples and oranges. But, it has to be Gary Sobers, the God of cricket. Statistically, you can prove anything, but numbers are not everything. They didn't play that many tests then but 26 hundreds in 92 tests is something! Those who saw him, will recall his electrifying presence on the field. A game changer, in every department, who won matches on his own. Fearless - no helmet, thigh pad, scored on uncovered pitches. Magnificent batsman, even better than Richards. If Bradman says he is the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen, that means something. There will never be another cricketer like Gary Sobers, nobody even comes close by a mile... he did not play for records, just did it naturally

  • Corne on January 1, 2014, 17:06 GMT

    The fact is evry statistic can be manipulated to suit an argument.

    You can argue a batsman is better if he had a higher strike rate than another, then you can argue a batsman is better due to an average. You can also rate a batsman the highest due to sheer number of runs.

    But ultimately you need to look at context to truly interpret a batsman's quality. What was his role for his team, did he also have to bowl?

    You can consider the fact that Kallis batted at four and Sir GSobers at 6 for most of his career, then you can consider the quality of the team a batsman played for.

    Statistics alone provides only the bare facts of a player, but not the essence of a player.

    The greatest two allrounders by statistics are Sobers and Kallis. Context is first and foremost a subjective opinion.

    Some say Kallis was not an entertainer, yet he hit as many boundaries per innings as Ponting. Perception vs reality.

  • naveed on January 1, 2014, 16:47 GMT

    Kallis has been a great player, and only as a batsman he ould match anyone in terms of numbers. Imran Khan the great remains head and shoulders above for only one reason, he was the captain and an astute one and also did not play a lot of competitive cricket for 2 reasons: Shin injury suffered after Indian series in 1982 which did not allow him to bowl for a couple of years, and second there was not this much cricket. As a captain his batting avg was above 52 and if he had bowled in his prime, he would have ended with far more wickets. But I think Imran was the full package-a shrewd and dominating leader in the game, a great in batting as a captain, and a fast bowler capable of tearing apart the best batting line-ups. Kallis has been steady but lacked that Xfactor as a player who could change the game quickly. And, Imran had to lead a team that did not have too many world class but avg players, good enough to play cricket at the elite level. But JK is awesome too.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2014, 9:58 GMT

    Dear Mr. Crowe,

    A truly magnificent piece on a magnificent player, by one of the best captain's in the game.

  • Chris on January 1, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    Bradman may have a mortgage on the title of "Greatest batsman" of all time, but Kallis and Sobers would tussle over the claim of "Greatest cricketer" of all time. Very difficult to separate them.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2014, 9:34 GMT

    One of the finest all-rounders, yes...but is he the greatest all-rounder or modern-day batsman- NO.

    I have always seen that a primitive method is used to figure out the greatest all-rounder with highest difference between batting and bowling averages, is the best....strike-rates are never given any importance, here...and, bowling all-rounders like Sir Richard Hadlee are not given due credit due to this approach...Sir Richard was one of the 4 bowlers to have an average of 5 wickets per test match (minimum qualifying standard of 70 tests)...the other three are Lillee, Steyn and Murali, none of them comparable to Sir Richard as an all-rounder....If Kallis had to scale up to Sir Richard's level, he would have had to take 800 plus the way, Kallis' batting strike rate is also abysmal along with that of Dravid, which is why Sachin and Ponting are considered greater batsmen than these two...The stats gurus of this world, choose to conveniently ignore this fact..