Wisden Cricketers of the Year 2013

Jacques Kallis

Christopher Martin-Jenkins


Jacques Kallis appeals for a wicket, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 1st day, November 22, 2012
"The trick is to treat every ball you bowl or face as if it's the real thing" © Associated Press
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Players/Officials: Jacques Kallis
Teams: South Africa

The best, most classical and most durable allrounder of his generation, and arguably of all time, was the mighty difference between South Africa and England in the summer of 2012. His presence gave the tourists an enviable balance, leaving England - who dared not bat their wicketkeeper Matt Prior at No. 6 to accommodate an extra bowler - outgunned.

Kallis' implacable alliance with Hashim Amla made possible England's humiliation at The Oval, where his unbeaten 182 was as easy to miss as any such score could be. He also bowled with shrewdness and calculated venom, undermining England's first innings with the vital wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, and swallowed fast, flying catches at second slip.

Only a Lord's century remained out of reach, though last summer he was not helped by two contentious decisions. Overall, he was for South Africa what he had been for at least 15 years: a pillar and a rock. At last, the claim in 2012 that he had never quite received the credit he deserved felt wrong; but the comparisons with Garfield Sobers did not.

Born in Cape Town on October 16, 1975, JACQUES HENRY KALLIS was quickly recognised as a special talent at his school, Wynberg Boys' High, a couple of miles from Newlands, his spiritual home. Indeed, the school's cricket field was renamed "The Jacques Kallis Oval" in 2009. He first played for his country, against England in the Durban Test of 1995-96, at the age of 20. Batting at No. 6, he made a single in a rain-ruined draw, and did not get a bowl, but his bit part proved misleading: other than a spell out of the Twenty20 side, he has been an essential selection ever since. That Oval hundred was the 43rd of his Test career (only Sachin Tendulkar has more), to go with 17 in one-day internationals. Injuries have been rare, perhaps because of a bowling action reminiscent of Alec Bedser: sideways on, with the left arm leading, a full turn of a strong frame, and a surging follow-through.

Like Jack Nicklaus, the greatest of golfers, he has kept extraordinary command of his emotions, his expression inscrutable until he takes another wicket or reaches another century. Then a wide smile lights his even wider face. He has been a model not just of batting and bowling technique, but of the game's chivalrous spirit: England recall Kallis walking at a crucial moment in a World Cup game at Chennai in 2011, having accepted the fielder's word that a potentially contentious slip catch had carried. Yet he is as intensively competitive as anyone. He is, in fact, driven by his will to succeed.

Massive strength and a temperament as cool as an igloo have made him the most consistently formidable all-round cricketer since the era of Botham, Imran, Hadlee and Kapil - and, like them, Kallis has done things his own way. He ascribes his longevity to managing his fitness: "I've always tried to listen to my body and pick up early warning signs. In the early days I trained all day and bowled in the nets. I was in my mid-twenties when I realised I had to change."

As a batsman he quickly learned to switch off between deliveries; a monumental calm has always pervaded his cricket. Once set, often from the first ball, he looks unmovable, as he confirmed during his unbroken stand of 377 with Amla. Impressive rather than exciting, and utterly orthodox, he rarely looks hurried; his bat appears broader than the Laws allow. Only his strike- rate has drawn criticism: just occasionally, he has seemed wrapped up in personal battles, and once or twice in mid-career he failed to produce the gear- change his team needed.

His omission from the 2007 World Twenty20 may have focused the mind, for barely a week after the tournament he dominated Pakistan's Test bowlers on their notoriously slow pitches, scoring 155 and 100 not out at Karachi, then 59 and 107 not out at Lahore. Soon after, at home to New Zealand, he scored 186 and 131 in successive innings.

To select from his achievements feels invidious, but a few feats capture him best. In 2001-02, he went 1,241 minutes - nearly 21 hours - between Test dismissals. Two years later, he made centuries in five successive Tests, one short of Don Bradman's record. Depicted by some, at times fairly, as a reluctant bowler, he finished the England tour with 555 international wickets, to say nothing of 319 catches.

Short but intensive preparation has been vital to these insatiable performances. "The key," he explains, "is to treat every ball you bowl or face as if it's the real thing. With that intensity you can do your preparation in 20 balls rather than an hour or two. I learned a long time ago that physical preparation for international cricket takes place a long time before the match. It's mental preparation that counts on the eve of the match.

"I've never had to question my motivation, never questioned the reason I go to work every day. I stay fresh by getting as far away from cricket as possible between tours and games. I don't watch any cricket and I certainly don't talk about it."

His escape to private life is easier in Cape Town than it would be if home were Kolkata or Mumbai. "I prefer to play golf than watch cricket," he admits. "I do whatever I can to make the game feel fresh again the next time I play." And his willingness to muck in was exemplified when, as part of a team- bonding exercise before the England tour, Kallis - who loathes heights - jumped ten feet into an Alpine lake.

How much longer Kallis will devote to the game is, inevitably, uncertain. The calamitous ending to the career of Mark Boucher, his close friend, gave him reason to consider his future early in the England tour. But Gary Kirsten, long a team-mate and now the national coach, has a plan. After managing Sachin Tendulkar's cricketing autumn while coaching India, Kirsten hoped he could persuade Kallis to play at the 2015 World Cup. It would be a record- equalling sixth, and he would be 39. Whenever he does decide to call it a day, cricket will have lost a true phenomenon.

© John Wisden & Co