Jacques Kallis retires July 30, 2014

Kallis a standard-bearer for a nation

He made South Africans proud and he made the rest of the world stand up and take notice. He played at the highest level for 18 years and was the beating heart of many fine teams

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'Kallis' calm balance helps him make big scores'

There is always a certain sadness when exceptional sportsmen call time on their career. Our interest in them lies not just in the aesthetics but in both character and personality; in physical and mental strength; in the ability to win. Few are given every gift. In cricket, Sir Garfield Sobers has been the stand out. Roger Federer, Diego Maradona and Severiano Ballesteros are three from other sports so blessed.

Jacques Kallis wanted to play in the World Cup next year but he has run out of time. The reason for his retirement from Test cricket was simple enough; he didn't have the mental energy for it anymore. The brain had rebelled against the demands of the contest. Test match innings are a triumph of the mind. Bowling is a talent wholly attached to discipline. Catching at slip is a matter of concentration. Kallis still had the legs but the heart and head had wandered elsewhere. He broke the news to Graeme Smith while the pair of them stood at slip during the series against India last Christmas. Smith was eager for him to hang on for the Australians but he said there was nothing left to give. Friends suggested he drop down the order and barely bowl. He told them they were missing the point. Either you are up for it or you are not. Hanging on is a betrayal.

He thought he had a World Cup left in him. It grates, not just with Kallis but with every South African who has touched upon bat and ball, that World Cup failures are associated with the C word. Some sportsmen lose, others choke. Or, as a well know golfer once said about a putt that went astray, "I threw up on myself." It appears that the South Africa cricket team does much the same, which is odd given that South African people have both courage and commitment in the many challenges they face. Kallis is furious that his team should be the subject of such opinion and remains certain that the talent and attitude exists to win the tournament in Australia. Initially, he felt his experience and all-round skills would add value to the sum of the parts. But he has found out that being a part-time cricketer is a mug's game. Thus, the career of an exceptional player has finally come to an end. After making 13,289 runs and taking 292 wickets in Test match cricket along with 11,579 runs and 273 wickets in one-day cricket, they will have to go and win the cup without him.

The Kallis statistics broke no argument. They are exquisite. And remember that batting on South African pitches provides a sterner test than those in most other countries. In the early 1990's, that shrewd old fox Robin Jackman said that the next great South African batsmen was about to make his debut for Western Province. Jackman was coaching in Cape Town and had first seen "the little oke" at Wynberg Boys High, alma mater of one Allan Lamb. Jackman was struck by a pure technique and commanding presence, aspects of his game that were to remain at the core of his longevity and success.

If figures are the go-to, only Sobers can compare. Sir Walter Hammond shares with both of them the unusual distinction of a Test match batting average above 55 that exceeds a bowling average by 20 or better. Only two men have batting averages above 40 and bowling averages below 33. Kallis is one but neither Sobers nor Hammond are with him. (I'll let you work out the other. It's a good 'un.)

In an age of extravagance, Kallis played the game pragmatically. He preserved his wicket in the way of the great defenders and yet had a range of strokes that allowed him control of pretty much any attack. His hugely strong upper body brought immense physical strength to his bowling, as batsmen uniformly spoke of a "heavy ball" and the relentless application of a tactic. He possessed two of the jewels of the great game, a beautiful cover-drive from either foot and a perfect late outswinger. He held 200 Test match catches, most at slip. A quirky but revealing stat is that only Adam Gilchrist, with 107, has hit more Test match sixes. All this hardly seems fair.

What he lacked was Sobers' flair. There were times when Kallis appeared lost in his own world, strangely unable to alter the pattern of play through inspiration. He operated within a risk-averse strategy, while Sobers regarded a gamble as part of the daily routine. Because of this, Sobers was greatly loved while Kallis was highly regarded. Sobers emptied bars, Kallis guaranteed no change should you happen to drift off. Sobers had a fluent, animal grace; Kallis a latent power and foreboding sense of permanence.

There have been five more unarguably great allrounders. Each caught the eye for different reasons. Sir Richard Hadlee applied a surgical precision; Sir Ian Botham paraded an absence of self-doubt that won many an unpromising situation; Kapil Dev played with an athletically free spirit, Imran Khan with a lion's sense of occasion and Keith Miller brought an unbridled pleasure to those lucky enough to witness either the man or his talent at first hand. Mike Procter may well have been among them had fate not turned against him.

Kallis retires as another one of those truly great cricketers. Whether or not he is the finest all-round player ever is irrelevant and, anyway, comparisons can be odious and lead to contempt. What we know is that he adorned the game we love. He made South Africans proud and he made the rest of the world stand up and take notice. He played at the highest level for 18 years, which is a testament to desire and fitness every bit as much as it is to the skills that make him irreplaceable. He was the beating heart of many fine teams, the reference point for many an opponent and a standard-bearer for a sports loving nation through its period of extraordinary reconciliation and change. Bravo Jacques, the game will be poorer without you.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2014, 22:51 GMT

    A lovely article and truely deserved for such a fine cricketer. Kallis is undoubtly one of the greatest players of all times! and should enjoy his retirement because he certainly earned it. I cant believe people keep going about him not being able to win matches??? most player of the matches and 2nd most player of the series awards in test cricket suggests that he his performances won many many matches and series.

  • Dummy4 on August 2, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    It amaze me that no one is talking about his contribution in Slips. Safe as a house !! A complete package which i think will never arrive in Cricket.

  • Dummy4 on August 2, 2014, 0:48 GMT

    Great article. The man's a one off. An all rounder as good as Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting and Gavaskar with the bat, yet was still able to take almost 300 test wickets. All the other famous great all rounders were surpassed by Kallis. In a league of his own. South Africa might be easier to beat now :)

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2014, 13:17 GMT

    With no limits on games played, runs scores, wickets taken, 33 test cricketers have a batting average above 40 and a bowling average below 33. Kallis, Greig, and Faulkner head the list in terms of wickets taken, but from recent players, Simon Katich and Darren Lehmann also qualify. Full list: http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=1;filter=advanced;orderby=wickets;qualmax1=33;qualmax2=100;qualmin1=0;qualmin2=40;qualval1=bowling_average;qualval2=batting_average;template=results;type=allround

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2014, 4:34 GMT

    Thank you Mark, for such a well written (as always) article. There is no doubt Kallis is one of the greats of all time as his record proves. However having seen Gary Sobers up close and personal many times I do not believe there has been a better all round cricketer. However as you say comparisons are irrelevant.

  • Simon on August 1, 2014, 3:31 GMT

    Nice article, Mark. As an Aussie, we have looked high and low for a genuine all rounder for nigh on two decades and everyone touted in that time was found wanting because the undoubted benchmark was Kallis. The gulf between him and the next best, as you rightly noted, isn't measured just in averages, but in generations.

    We've seen the retirements of some all time great batsmen and bowlers in the last 24 - 36 months, but now we have seen the retirement of a truly great cricketer.

    My admiration for him is not just based on his undoubted reliability which Aussies envied, but while he wasn't a sledger, he wasn't appalled by it. He was up for a contest in all its forms and just got into it.

  • Pad on August 1, 2014, 2:31 GMT

    Undoubtadly the cricketer of our generation... no one else managed to show such impact on all departments of the game like he did. Add runs to his career count to match the amount of wickets he has taken and the catches he has taken. Easly that might come to 20000 test runs!! what more to prove it!! The greatest cricketer !!!!

  • Serv on August 1, 2014, 1:17 GMT

    Thanks Jacques for being there right from the beginning of my cricket watching years as a young kid.

    By the way, adding to the mystery all-rounder conundrum, doesn't Doug Walters fit the bill by having a batting average of 48.26 and a bowling average of 29.08?

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2014, 21:03 GMT

    It makes me sad that people look immediately for negative things about the guy. Lemme tell you, if you're a South African, you love him. Everyone always says he was boring, he didn't play for the team, he wasn't a match winner. Rubbish. He was a big time match winner. He played in some pretty average teams and made them look good. That was the character of Kallis. No big talk. No cocky attitude. No rubbish. He just quietly went about single handedly saving or winning test matches. And carrying others with him. When his batting was out of form he was taking wickets and catches. His bowling stats are on a par with Zahir Kahn and his batting stats as good as Ponting and Dravid. He took a helluva lot of catches. A better ambassador for cricket I have never seen. Not opinionated, he never ridiculed or tried to put down his opponents. Thats real character and integrity. Brilliant and I am lucky to have been able to watch him play for most of his career. Thank You JK.

  • Harsh on July 31, 2014, 18:44 GMT

    Statistically Kallis is the best cricketer of his generation but cricket is not only about statistics .It is also about entertainment,charisma artistry and x -factor.What counts aginst Kallis is that he at times did not step the gas sufficiently to win games for his team and the fact that he did not champion the cause with both ball and bat in more than one or 2 series.Infact he was only a great batsmen in the latter half of his playing days.No doubt his batting figures were monumental,on par with Tendulkar but again he could not equal Tendulkar Lara's or Ponting's strike rate or match their ability to turn games.Kallis score a greater percentage of his runs in drawn test matches.True,in a crisis he was arguably the best of his time and on par with Sir Gary Sobers.Kallis was not as great a match-winner with both bat and ball as Ian Botham in his prime or Imran in his entire career.Neverthless his longevity wins the battle for 2nd spot to Sobers.