By Partab Ramchand
In these days of limited overs cricket and twenty20 bashes where the spotlight is on the swashbucklers, the players with more than a flamboyance, the buccaneering batsmen who hit the ball hard and high into the stands and out of the ground I may be out of touch by admitting that one of my favourite players is Jacques Kallis a cricketer who puts substance over style. But what substance! When a cricketer runs up an all round record that is truly mind boggling one has to sit up and take a closer look for Kallis is the very epitome of solidity.
I for one can never stop marveling at Kallis’ achievements. Even with the proliferation of Test matches one thought that Gary Sobers’ record of being the only player to score 8000 runs and take 200 wickets would stand the test of time. Some 35 years after the great man’s retirement Kallis – admittedly in about 40 Tests more - has surpassed this and is now the only all rounder to score 10,000 runs and take 200 wickets. What’s more he has accomplished this feat in both forms of the game. Only four cricketers besides Kallis - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting - have notched up over 10,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs but none of them is anywhere near Kallis’ haul of wickets. Tendulkar has 44 in Tests and 154 in ODIs. Sanath Jayasuriya has scored more ODI runs and taken more wickets than Kallis but in Tests he has got fractionally under 7000 runs in addition to just 98 wickets.
What’s even more impressive is Kallis’ average. The figures are truly eye rubbing for he averages 55 in Tests and 45 in ODIs besides having a career first class average of over 53. He has hit 33 hundreds in 135 Tests putting him fifth in the all time list behind only Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Sunil Gavaskar. The one credential missing from his CV is a Test double century – his highest is 189 not out – and one can already see Kallis determined to reach that landmark before he calls it a day.
Determination is just one of the many qualities that Kallis possesses and this has seen the strong shouldered 34-year-old emerge as the thorn in the South African side that most bowlers would want to remove. He also possesses dedication and concentration, technique and temperament – indeed all the qualities that go into the making of a world class batsman. Rahul Dravid is known as The Wall but the sobriquet would fit Kallis too. Indeed he could well be world cricket’s most immovable object. Like in Dravid’s case when Kallis plays a defensive shot the bat seems unusually broad. He is solidness personified and the rock on which the South African innings is built.
The great thing about Kallis is his consistency. The law of averages does not catch up with him. He has been averaging more than 50 almost since the start of the new millennium and the figure has gone up almost every year. The century ratio which was one in six Tests first improved to one in five and now it is one in four. Late in 2007 at Karachi he achieved one of his ambitions – a century in each innings – and once he sets his sight on a feat you can bet your bottom dollar Kallis will reach it. Also as a crisis man he has few peers as he proved once again while rescuing South Africa in the recent Cape Town Test.
Of course Kallis has faced the charge more than once that he bats for his average, that he is unable to force the pace, that he puts his interests above his teams’. He has met this accusation head on for a Geoff Boycott he is not. Besides immaculate defence, Kallis has a wide range of strokes on both sides of the wicket; he is also not afraid to loft the ball. It is true that his batting is not for the romantic for a Kallis century tends to be a soulless affair with ruthless efficiency taking precedence over derring-do. But his value to the side is quite immeasurable.
To the casual observer it would be easy to dismiss Kallis’ bowling as run of the mill, up and down stuff, military medium and in other such clichéd terms. The figures however prove otherwise and to the keen cricket follower it is obvious that Kallis is a clever bowler who makes the ball swing late or brings it in sharply. He remains a batting all rounder but it must not be forgotten that he is the only South African to score a century and take five wickets in an innings twice in Test matches. However he cheerfully underplays his role as a bowler. ``Our bowlers are doing well. As long as I can keep chipping in with the odd wicket, I'll look at doing that,’’ he said modestly in a recent interview. Add to this his peerless slip catching and one has a picture of the complete cricketer.
Even after 14 years in the game, after more than 130 Tests and nearly 300 ODIs Kallis retains the burning desire to perform. It’s not easy being an all rounder these days because of the excessive amount of cricket being played and Kallis is not getting any younger. But there is little doubt that he is enjoying the double role. He is at the peak of his cricketing powers and honours such as the ICC Test Player of the Year 2005, ICC Player of the Year 2005, Wisden Leading Cricketer of 2007 and the best all rounder in the game according to the rankings rest lightly on his broad shoulders. The ubiquitous player will undoubtedly be around for a couple of years more and by the time he leaves the scene Kallis will undoubtedly leave an all rounder’s legacy that will be truly phenomenal and quite unsurpassable.