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UpFront/Numerix | Dec 11, 2012 | 13560 views

Is Jacques Kallis Test Cricket's Unsung Hero?

Jacques Kallis is within striking distance of Sachin Tendulkar's record of most Test centuries. Yet, we have heard so little about his batting
Is Jacques Kallis Test Cricket's Unsung Hero?
Image: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images
Jacques Kallis, the South African all-rounder

W

hile Indian cricket fans are busy debating  Sachin Tendulkar’s cricketing future, a lesser-celebrated but almost as great a player has been climbing up the ladder.

Jacques Kallis, the South African all-rounder, could soon be the man to take away Tendulkar’s most prized achievement—that of maximum Test centuries.

By the end of the second Test between India and England, 37-year-old Kallis had 44 Test hundreds as against 51 by the 39-year-old Tendulkar. It is also significant that over the last two years, Kallis has scored nine centuries at an average of 62.58, as against Tendulkar’s two at an average of 35.72.

Still why is it that Kallis’ ability to beat Tendulkar’s record appears somewhat sudden? There’s also a distinct unease among Indians while entertaining the proposition that a dourly Kallis could overwhelm the charismatic Tendulkar.

There’s a deep chasm in the way we rate Tendulkar (or even Laxman and Sehwag) as against Kallis. We have appreciation for many of India’s tormentors, like Shane Warne, Wasim Akram and Sanath Jayasuriya, but despite his high average and prolific scoring, Kallis fails to excite us.

Is it because he hasn’t played a memorable, impactful knock against us? Or is it because we value the Sehwag style of result-oriented, swashbuckling batting more than the Kallis (or even Dravid) kind of stealth and consistency? Would we have celebrated Kallis far more had he hailed from the subcontinent where the bulk of cricketing might resides?

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Let us look at some numbers. Against India, Kallis has hit six centuries, three of them for a winning cause; but there’s a caveat: Kallis has bagged top honours only once. On the other two occasions, his teammates Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers scored bigger.

This is reflective of Kallis’ entire career. At the top of the order, he almost always sets up the match, while someone else comes along, scores a bigger hundred, turns the match on and hogs the limelight.

Out of the 42 Tests that fetched him his 44 centuries, his score was the highest [of the innings or of the match] on 15 occasions only. That is a telling statistic because there was invariably someone else, either in his team or in the opposition, who went on to score more than him.

That explains why Kallis failed to find a place in the worldwide poll for ICC’s Greatest Test Team in 2011, despite beating batting greats like Ponting, Dravid and Lara on most counts.

“I think Kallis is a connoisseur’s cricketer rather than a seat-grabber. He is like the concrete that holds up a building rather than the laminate that gives it the gloss,” says cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle.

In the 42 matches where Kallis has scored a hundred or more, South Africa has lost only thrice. Clearly, a Kallis century almost ensures that his team cannot be beaten.  

But his influence is not limited to batting alone. Besides his centuries, he has often been tossed the ball at first change. He bowls long spells and picks up crucial wickets. But in bowling, too, the more celebrated regular bowlers in the South African side, Dale Steyn or Makhaya Ntini, end up stealing the limelight. (Kallis has picked up 282 Test wickets so far.)

Solely on the count of batsmanship, Kallis hasn’t given us any well-etched memory, unlike Ponting, whom one can imagine flicking the bowler over mid-wicket or Jayasuriya, cutting a short-pitched delivery for a six over third man.

Latika Khaneja, a well-known sports manager, has a far more brutal take on this. She feels that excitement and recall among followers are closely related to charisma. David Beckham and Tiger Woods aren’t the best, yet they sell because of Beckham’s maverick lifestyle or Woods’ fairytale story. “Kallis doesn’t have a story,” she says.

Let’s put it to test.

If you have to recall one outstanding memory of Jacques Kallis, Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald and Lance Klusener, what comes to your mind first?

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 21 December, 2012
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Comments (14)
Abhilash Mohanan May 12, 2014
I think kallis is the best player in tests.Just have a look at his test career! about 13000 runs, 300 wickets and 200 catches! what an amazing career he has!
Yahpal Nov 16, 2013
Kallis is no doubt the best cricketer than Sachin. It is the media which gave so much of exposer to
sachin, otherwise many legendary like The Great Don Bradman, Sir viv Richards and Kapil retired from cricket, but all went in silence. And Sachin should not be compared with God. It is an insult of God.
Imdad Ali Chanihon Oct 7, 2013
I thnk kallis is great all rounder in every format. Kallis, lara and ponting are much better than sachin. To compare kallis with sachin equals to compare elephent with aunt. So geo kallis.
Response to Imdad Ali Chanihon:
Prakash Oct 23, 2013
No one is better than sachin.
Aditya Saxena Feb 12, 2013
Being an Indian it is always different to look at something other than Sachin Tendulkar. However there is no doubt that Kallis scores above Tendulkar and by far. Both are amazing but Kallis is the superman and not sachin.
Faeq Jan 19, 2013
Kallis is much better than any of these coz no one can score 13000 runs and tace more than 284 wickets he is the greatest cricketer to play the game of cricket all others are only batsmen but still kallis has a better avarege than all others and if people say one run out of jhonty or one spell of bowling from donald or one series of klusner can thses things will ever be compared to kallis he has been the best since 17 years now. in veiw he is the bester is the bester was and thester ever will be no one can ever dream of matching kallis.....................................
Dipankar Sen Roy Jan 14, 2013
It will be grossly unfair to measure Kallis in these small measures. Apart from appreciating his scoring so prolifically, one has to consider the South African wickets, where the balls swings and bounce in such ways that scoring is not as easy as it in flatter pitches of the sub-continent. Here is where scored most of his runs, whereas here is where other greats have often failed. Now, notwithstanding his injuries, consider his wicket taking abilities. Also his firm hands in the slips that would make any captain proud. So much is his competence that he even succeeds in the T20 variety without playing many non-cricketing strokes. He is a class apart, if not only the very best, so far as cricket goes. And talking about popularity, the corporate media knows better.
Ian Jan 11, 2013
His career is a long standout moment. His greatness comes from tempering an exuberant batting style that characterized his early career, to becoming a foundation that held the SA team together. Also, he manages to adapt his game to all formats, condition and situations like no other batsman in the history of the game. He respects his opponents and competes fairly and with modesty unbeknownst in modern sport. And he is 29th on the list of all time wicket takers! Nuff said! Respect!
Pankaj Dec 19, 2012
Kallis is a Great, but has missed Moments of Greatness which are itched in memory forever. Like Jhonty - The Run out or Flying Catch, Alan Donald - Destroying Opposition, Lance Kluesener - Tearing Bowlers at World Cup
Hamza Dec 14, 2012
If you have to recall one outstanding memory of Sachin Tendulkar, Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald and Lance Klusener, what comes to your mind first?

I dont think it will be tendulkar.
Ajay Dec 14, 2012
Allan Donald - That stupid run out of his in the semi final of the World Cup against Australia
Jag Dec 12, 2012
An interesting article, and the first thing I'll say is that for anyone with a regard for test cricket (a dwindling category, increasingly confined to middle Eng and uber sporty Aus), Kallis is comparable to Tendulkar or Ponting.

So, why does Tendulkar get so much more attention?

He's Indian; the Indian's need a sporting hero, and Tendulkar is the only candidate in a country of over a billion. Consequently, the praise Tendulkar receives is little short of astonishing, and because Indians are so sensitive, they'll fry any non-Indian for criticism of any kind. This is less the case now, but that's because it's clear Sachin is in decline and all but his most intense worshippers want him to retire gracefully. Does this sound farfetched to you? Ok, then try this: go to any article in the western press that's been less than flattering about Tendulkar, choose any period from the late 90s to around 2010, and take a look at the comments. I've seen articles with hundreds of semi-literate remarks accusing the authors of racism, of neo-colonialism or of just plain jealously, when all they've done is point out that Tendulkar isn't, in statistical terms, an outlier. I remember once speaking to an Indian who was outraged that Atherton, in his autobiography, hadn'€™t given Tendulkar the praise we'€™re all obliged to give. I find it sickening when any cricketer, from whatever country, is interviewed on Indian TV and asked his thoughts on the great Sachin Tendulkar. They a€™re then expected, nay obliged, to pile on the superlatives. It'€™s more than mildly pathetic.
It all reaches a cringe-inducing crescendo when Tendulkar is praised so endlessly in the press for being humble. Well, he has a lot to be humble about, for he is just a cricketer, not even the complete or the consummate cricketer, but just a batsman. Let'€™s get a sense of perspective. Now if you called Nelson Mandela humble, then that would mean something, but for Tendulkar, it’s just a glossy tick against his name that makes him a little more likeable, but that aside, really, so what if he's humble? But rationality aside, Tendulkar is impossible not to like, and in his prime I was as guilty as any Indian of switching the cricket off after his dismissal.

I'€™ll end on a more positive point, and the reason why I think that while they'€™re comparable, Tendulkar is the better of the two and quite possibly the best of his generation. Kallis and Ponting, unlike Tendulkar, accumulated the bulk of their runs against lesser bowlers. Their peaks coincided with the great decline in fast bowling, so they remain largely untested against the likes of Akram, Waqar, Walsh and Ambrose. What'€™s more, they played for the two countries that had most of the best remaining bowlers: so Kallis didn't have to face Donald or Pollock and Ponting could happily watch McGrath, Warne, Gillispie from the slips. The statistics, especially if you focus too much on just the averages, miss this point.

The bottom line is a simple one: Tendulkar was a great batsman, one of the greatest batsman of the modern era even, no more or less.
Siddhesh Sawant Dec 12, 2012
Aptly said in this article , kallis has always been overshadowed. He might not have class like tendulkar , but he has stood up for Proteans almost everytime. He is been excellent in all 3 departments over the years. He should get some respect at least when he retires .
Shravan Dec 12, 2012
Unfortunately my only outstanding memory of those players was the infamous run-out in the 99 World Cup semi final. Why didn't you run, Alan???

That being said, I'm sure I will remember this current SA side. Especially Amla's 300 againt England, AB's 250 ball 33 to save a test match and Dale Steyn's fire with the new ball.
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