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By Suresh Menon
In the age of globalisation (and IPL), it would be limiting to restrict such groupings as ‘Fabulous Four’ or ‘Super Six’ to within the boundaries of a single country. The four most successful batsmen in Test cricket are all playing this week in one of those coincidences that the game occasionally throws up. Three of them – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting – form the impressive line-up in the Melbourne Test, while the fourth, Jacques Kallis takes the field in Durban against Sri Lanka.
Let’s get the statistics out of the way first. That is 166 centuries and over 52,000 runs among just four players. Then there is the small matter of the 271 wickets against Kallis’s name. And nearly 700 catches, Dravid leading the way with 210. Virtually all the batting and fielding records belong to this group. And if you include one-day internationals – where each of these batsmen has over 10,000 runs – the figures begin to get unwieldy, and in the manner of statistics at the extreme end of the scale, almost meaningless. I mean, what do another 107 centuries mean?
Kallis, the youngest of the lot at 36, is the least feted despite an all round record that is staggering. He and Dravid are the quiet achievers in the group, the players’ players whose true value is appreciated by colleagues and opponents but not always by the fan who places flamboyance above performance. Both of them have in over a decade and a half at the top, allowed lesser but more colourful batsmen to hog the limelight. Both have the maturity and the self-awareness to see that as a part of sport.
Dravid has emerged as the most intelligent, articulate and thoughtful of this group of four, his recent oratory at the Bradman lecture in Australia surprising only those who believed – despite evidence to the contrary – that his personality rode on a gentle push to mid on or an occasional square cut.
As the oldest current Test player, a few days short of his 39th birthday, it is only appropriate that he is the grey eminence of the sport. This is one area he does not have too much competition in, partly because of the nature and temperament of players who would rather play safe and partly due to the ICC’s stringent code which prevents a player from speaking his mind on issues that matter. The result of this double whammy is that we get few insights on current issues from the most experienced players in the game.
Ponting did play the role of the spokesman for a while, especially while leading one of the most successful teams of our time. He and Kallis made their Test debut within a week of each other 16 years ago, the former forcing respect out of his countrymen and the cricketing world through the sheer weight of performance despite an early reputation for being the wild kid of the sport. There are periodic calls for his head in Australia, a call that suddenly became muted after the loss to New Zealand and the realisation that followed: the middle order was too fragile to jettison the 37-year-old.
Kallis might not have had to deal with the kind of pressure the other three have. At his peak, South Africa had the luxury of playing a world class number three batsman who could also bowl at over 140kmph. Except as a catcher at slip, he was not obviously spectacular, and comparisons with great all rounders of the past seemed to come with a mental asterisk. Greatness was a matter of statistics, as in, ‘statistically Kallis is the greatest all rounder in the game, but...’
It is a treat to watch the Fabulous Four in action all at the same time. Each with over 12,000 runs, 35 centuries, 100 catches, and barring Kallis who is one short, 150 Test matches. Never before has so much been achieved by so few in a single generation.