April 17, 2008

Kallis closing in on the all-rounders’ Mt Everest

By H Natarajan

Jacques Kallis is inching closer towards immortality. He is a series or two away from a five-figure career run-aggregate in both Tests and One-Day Internationals to become the first man in the history of both forms of the game to log in 10,000 runs, 200 wickets and 100 catches – unquestionably brilliant by any stretch of imagination.

Kallis’s humungous performance is best appreciated by the fact that barring Sir Garfield Sobers, no bowler in the history of the game who has captured 200 wickets has scored over 7000 runs. To turn it the other way round, no batsman in the 7000-run club - apart from the great Sir Gary - has managed to get 200 wickets. In fact, not even 100 wickets. Being a frontline bowler and batsmen takes a huge toll and players often sacrifice one for the other – much like top players in tennis who give up doubles play to save their energies for singles.

Sir Gary is widely regarded as the “King” among all-rounders. So how does the South African compare with Sir Gary? Cricket pundits generally dislike the idea of comparing players from different generations – and with good reasons, too. Sir Gary played most of his cricket on uncovered wickets which tested batting skills to the optimum. The protective gear available in the West Indian’s time was apologetic compared to the present era. Modern players also have copious scientific data to identify and bring about swift correction in skills – thanks to the huge back-up support that is available to modern teams. One cannot also ignore the fact that modern bats and rules have also veered towards making the game increasingly batsman friendly.

One must hence keep in mind that any comparison of different generations may not entirely be fair to the players. But let’s get on with the exercise, nevertheless, to arrive at the comparative numbers.

Sobers’s multi-tasking also included his role as West Indies captain for 39 Tests. That he fared better in both batting and bowling – even if only marginally – showed that the cares of captaincy did not affect his performances as a player. Kallis has led South Africa just once without distinguishing in any noticeable manner. The captaincy factor cannot be ignored as it’s a huge responsibility which has taken a toll on the best of players - Sachin Tendulkar being a classic example.

The argument in favour of Kallis could be that cricket today is played almost round the year with ODIs adding to the burden of the players in terms of added work, travel and little time for rest and recuperation. Kallis has played 119 Tests in little over 12 years compared to Sobers’s 93 spread over twenty long years. Kallis has also played 274 ODIs. Sobers, who would have been a rare ornament for one-day cricket, was at the end of his fabulous career when the overs-limit game was in its infancy. It meant that the great man’s ODI career was just restricted to one game.

Kallis compares well with Sobers in the Test arena. Sixteen of Kallis’s 30 Test hundreds have come in South African victories while 12 of Sobers’s 26 centuries won the game for the West Indies. In terms of batting averages, little separates Kallis from Sobers. The West Indian legend averages 57.78 as against Kallis’s 57.14. Kallis has scored four hundreds more than Sobers, but he has also played 26 Tests and 42 more innings.

The one anomaly Kallis needs to address before he hangs up his cricketing boots is to get a double hundred against his name. Kallis is the only player among the top ten run getters in Test history without a double hundred. And that will also be a negative when he is compared to the very best batsmen in the history of the game.

If Kallis has not got the credit that some of the other great all-rounders in the game like Imran Khan, Sir Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee and Sir Gary himself it’s because he lacks in flamboyance. He does not inject the kind of excitement that the above-mentioned greats have. His approach lacks aggression. Like Rahul Dravid for India, Kallis brings in huge security and value to South Africa, but he loses out on charisma and glam quotient to other players in the side. I guess it has everything to do with the mind. If Kallis and Dravid were to drive a Ferrari on a wide, traffic-free, inter-state highway, it’s quite possible that they will drive the powerful machine at 50 kmph. Kallis and Dravid are the kind of players who can charge VAT (Value Added Tax) but not Entertainment Tax! The latter is reserved for their more electrifying team-mates like Herschelle Gibbs, Mark Boucher, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh.

If Kallis minimized the risk factor in his game, Sobers thrived on risks – he was a gambler by nature, on and off the field. He once brought a swift end to a Test match at the Brabourne Stadium to be at the Mahalakshmi Race Course. But on another occasion, his risky declaration cost West Indies the series. Safety-first was never Sobers motto, unlike Kallis.

Kallis has been a late bloomer. After a pathetic start to his Test career, he just managed a modest average of 31.73 after 20 Tests. But his sheer consistency since then has today given him a Test average of 57.14, the sixth highest - after Sir Don Bradman, Herbert Sutcliffe, Ken Barrington, Ricky Ponting, Wally Hammond and Sir Gary - among those who have played at least 50 Test matches.

In summing up, it’s worth looking at Kallis’s mind-boggling numbers in Tests and ODIs combined: 19,198 runs, 46 hundreds, 112 fifties, 469 wickets and 226 catches. At age 32, Kallis still has a few good years of cricket left in him. And by the time he finally hangs up his cricketing boots, the above figures is likely to assume monumental proportions. Maybe, then, the cricketing world may well look at him differently.


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