Jacques Kallis, South Africa's Gentle Giant: Gen Now's Finest Cricketer

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Jacques Kallis, South Africa's Gentle Giant: Gen Now's Finest Cricketer
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Jacques Kallis is the finest all-rounder and best cricketer of the modern generation.

Yet he has failed to capture the imagination; he is not spoken of in the same breath as Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag or Ricky Ponting.

Why is that? Is it because he is unpretentious? Is it because he is unflashy? Is it because that he is not a dasher?

The 70s, 80s and early 90s had the fabulous quartet—Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Sir Ian Botham and Sir Richard Hadlee. Each had a unique signature statement.

Imran was debonair, suave, a leader of men and a playboy with a lady or two always dangling on his arms.

Kapil was earthy, with a toothsome grin and could subdue the best teams with his explosive batting when on song.

Ian Botham was a one-man army who destroyed the Aussies—colourful, fun and Vivian Richards’ best pal.

Hadlee was cool, clinical, methodical and metronomic with phenomenal accuracy.

It was a generation of great all-rounders.

Since then, there have been pretenders to the throne, but none have quite matched up to the leading lights of the past decades.

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Kapil Dev, India's finest.

Manoj Prabhakar, Ajit Agarkar, Saurav Ganguly and Irfan Pathan were touted as successors to Kapil’s legacy, but they could not come close to re-kindling a spark in the  flame extinguished  by his departure. Kapil remains the best cricketer India has produced—ever.

Abdul Razzaq , Azhar Mahmood and Wasim Akram were all good on their day. But those days were few and far between. Akram left his mark as the finest left-arm paceman in recent times. But three centuries did not fulfill the promise of his batting.

The dearth of all-rounders continued. Chris Cairns shone bright, flickered some more   and fizzled out due to various injuries. His was an awesome talent too often subjugated to physical ailments.

Freddie Flintoff did the trick for England in one fabulous Ashes series, dubbed Freddie’s Ashes. But he too succumbed to the varied ills that plague the modern cricketer, going under the scalpel several times and perhaps leaving the all-round abilities on the operating table.

Lance Klusener started out as a fast bowler, but matured into an all-rounder who could bat more than a bit. He has four Test hundreds. He was more renowned for his explosive batting down the order in the shorter version of the game. Who can forget how he almost won and then lost the World Cup for South Africa in 1999? Graeme Smith brought a swift end to his career when he took over as skipper, and that was that.

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Sir Gary Sobers.

Jacques Kallis, however, is that dying breed of multi-faceted cricketers that any captain would give his right arm for.

Kallis’ career record reads 145 matches, 11947 runs, a batting average of 57.43, 40 tons, 270 wickets and 166 catches. Kallis is no utility player. He can walk into most sides on the strength of his batting alone and more than a few sides for his first or second change bowling abilities.

He has become less penetrative with age and has focused on his batting. But he can still surprise and provide a breakthrough when needed.

Back to the question that troubles me:

Why have we failed to give the man his due? Is it because he’s more of a batting all-rounder? There is something exciting about a paceman who can bat a bit or more. Who will deny that? There is just that hint of bloodsport.

Is it that his batting is in the classical mould? Is it that he just comes in, does his job and goes away to return another rainy day?

Kallis , unlike most all-rounders, bats at No. 3. That is a specialist position and it has not hurt South Africa at all. He deserves his place there. His record compares favourably against Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting, the other No. 3 batsmen in the 10,000+ club.

He has 270 Test wickets to his name. Not quite in the Imran, Kapil, Hadlee or Botham category as a bowler, but quite near. The sheer volume of his runs should outweigh other considerations.

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He has twice the runs of any of his illustrious predecessors. The only other all-rounder whose aggregate matches the Protean’s is the great Gary Sobers. Kallis may not be as versatile; Gary could bowl left-arm orthodox and wrist spin and could double up as a fast medium-pacer.

If Gary Sobers is the finest all-rounder, the greatest cricketer the game has produced, Jacques Kallis is a close second.

The recent series against India witnessed Kallis dominate the series, scoring three centuries in three Tests—a double, a 150+ and an unbeaten ton made under trying circumstances. A wearing pitch, a murderous Bhajji and a chest blow were scoffed at by the last man standing, preventing the No. 1 team from clinching its first ever series win in South Africa.

Kallis is 35. Can he continue in this vein for two or three years? If so, he could well overtake the Little Master. Tendulkar has 51 tons to his name, Kallis 40. With a little bit of good fortune for the South African and a little less for the Indian maestro, it could very well be a case of grit taking the honours.

A thought that will have Tendulkar fans tossing and turning.

All-Rounders

Mat Runs HS Bat Av 100 Wkts Bowl Av 5 Ct St
Kapil Dev 131 5248 163 31.05 8 434 29.64 23 64 0
Imran Khan 88 3807 136 37.69 6 362 22.81 23 28 0
Ian Botham 102 5200 208 33.54 14 383 28.4 27 120 0
Richard Hadlee 86 3124 151* 27.16 2 431 22.29 36 39 0
Gary Sobers 93 8032 365* 57.78 26 235 34.03 6 109 0
                     
No. 3 in 10,000+ club                    
Rahul Dravid 150 12063 270 52.44 31 1 39 0 200 0
Ricky Ponting 152 12363 257 53.51 39 5 48.4 0 178 0

                   
Jacques Kallis 145 11947 201* 57.43 40 270 32.01 5 166 0

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.

Henry Ford

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