When it comes to discussing the greatest batsmen of generation just gone by, you always hear the same names crop up- Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting, Lara, Sangakkara, but one name that is not frequently mentioned is Jacques Kallis. For me, Kallis is the greatest cricketer of all time. An incredible performer in every format of the game, playing to the highest level consistently throughout his illustrious career.
When comparing Kallis as a batsman to the other greats of his generation, his numbers are not only on a par with, they actually surpass the others, with only Kumar Sangakkara having a higher overall batting average in Tests. Kallis racked up 13,000 Test runs at an astonishing average of 55.37 with 45 centuries and 58 fifties. These are astonishing numbers as a batsman alone, and would cement him legendary status. But what you also have with Kallis is the fact that he also took 292 Test wickets at a bowling average of 32. It is almost beyond belief that a player can have such an incredible record as a batsman, and also have such impressive bowling statistics as well. The argument always used against Kallis being the greatest all rounder in history, is that Garfield Sobers was a superior player, and while I wasn’t alive to watch Sobers play, I think that it is highely unlikely that any player has ever been at the level that Kallis has as an all round cricketer.
Jacques Kallis was a grinder. He would bat long, long periods of time; wearing down the opposition bowlers, and cashing in when they bowled the bad balls- the traditional way of batting. He would make it look so effortless, and I would rather watch very few batsmen in full flow than Kallis. His straight drive was impeccable, his cover drive imperious, and his ability to flick the ball off of middle stump or leg stump with ease through midwicket ensured that there were very few places you could bowl to Kallis and get away with it. Kallis had a fantastic conversion rate, and once he was in, you were certain that he was going to make a big score. One thing that did haunt him for a long time in his career, was his failure to make a double hundred until he finally broke his streak, and made his maiden Test double hundred against India in 2011. For someone with such an incredible conversion rate, it was very surprising that he had not gotten there sooner, but everyone knew that he was too good of a player to never reach the landmark. Kallis was the rock in South Africa’s batting line up, and I don’t think there are many who valued there wicket as highly as he did.
As a bowler, Kallis was never at the frontline for the Proteas, and that is understandable, as he played in teams that included the likes of Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald and Vernon Philander. He was often the first change bowler, and would extract good movement and bounce off pitches that provided assistance. Kallis was very effective in his accuracy, and it must have been a nightmare for batsmen knowing that after they whether the formidable opening bowlers, they get no respite when Kallis comes on to bowl.
Kallis also excelled at the shorter form of the game. Yet again, his One Day International statistics match up very well against the other legendary players. 11,000 runs at an average of 44, and 273 wickets at an average of 31 are fantastic numbers, especially in the shorter version of the game. Kallis was often the number 3 bat in ODI’s for South Africa, and this was a perfect position for him. He would come in often when a wicket had been lost early, and would play the anchor role wonderfully- rotating the strike, and ensuring that they would always have one player that got the runs necessary. He was never going to be the supreme One Day player in the sense that he wouldn’t score 20 ball fifties or 40 ball hundreds with sixes galore, but he knew his role, and he executed it. It’s also a testament to Kallis fitness and commitment to the sport that he managed a combined total of over 500 international games for his country, and was able to perform year after year.
It will be a long time before we see another player of the calibre of Jacques Kallis, and when we do, we have to appreciate it, because talent like that is so crucial and essential to the growth and enjoyment of cricket.