Rob Steen - ESPNCricinfo
“Tendulkar, Lara, Richards are cricketing royalty and so is Kallis - yet too often he is forgotten like Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and, let's face it, Old Phil is pretty close to the top".
Mark Richardson - Herald on Sunday, 26/02/2012
When the red ink is marked against the score of J H Kallis for the final time and he bids farewell to our great game, his exalted place in cricketing history is guaranteed – but conjecture will remain about whose company he’ll enjoy near the summit. Surely even Kallis’ harshest critics cannot deny his unparalleled influence on South African cricket or the legacy he will leave the world game. Why is it that so many deny him his place amongst cricket’s modern batting greats?
Kallis’ place as the greatest all-rounder of his generation is not up for debate – the talent pool is at a low ebb but he sits comfortably on the crest. It is his place amongst the very elite of modern batsmen that remains open to question. Punters and pundits sit either side of the fence – joining both the media and former greats who openly debate Kallis’ career.
In a recent comment piece, former Australian captain Ian Chappell, did not even consider the South African legend when discussing the dominant batsmen of our time – that ‘honour’ was reserved for the attacking trio of Tendulkar, Ponting and Lara. Therein may lay the problem. Does Kallis’ style, no matter how successful, remove him from the thoughts of many who view the art above the result?
With South Africa currently touring New Zealand, Kallis’ genius is on display for many who see little of him - the response borders on reverence. He may not occupy the number one spot amongst the modern batting greats - even his most ardent fans would struggle to justify that. However, why is he so regularly discounted from the esteemed company of Tendulkar, Ponting and Lara?
At test level, doesn’t his batting record alone allow him the luxury of inclusion? Not as a batting all-rounder with hands like baseball mitts, but solely of the basis on his deeds with the willow.
|His style may be criticised, but the celebration.....|
At test level there is little that separates Lara, Ponting, Tendulkar and Kallis statistically. All average well in excess of 50, with Kallis marginally heading the pack. Each scores a century every six to seven innings and passes 50 every third knock. At home averages increase and 50 plus scores become more frequent across the board. On tour, whilst all take a small hit, Kallis and Tendulkar are the same distance above 50 as Lara and Ponting are below it, but there’s only a cover drive in it. The only significant difference is Kallis’ strike rate – he strikes at only three-quarters of that of his peers. Does the methodical and deliberate nature of Kallis’ approach cloud peoples’ perceptions of his talent and his place in history?
Kallis’ maiden test century against a star-studded Australian side in the Boxing Day test at Melbourne in 1997 showed the value he would bring to his country. On a wearing final day pitch against the might of Warne and McGrath, Kallis battled his way to 101 - by the time he was dismissed South Africa had staved off defeat. The innings put a stake in the ground – a marker for the modus operandi of a lengthy career. Should we think less of a cricketer who puts shots laced with risk away?
From the early days of a burgeoning career Kallis has removed those parts of his game that give the opposition attacks a chance to dismiss him and take the advantage away from his team. Critics point to his inability to take a match situation into account and the methodical nature of his batting; his team mates talk of his selflessness in the highest regard. Just as the miserly nature of Vettori’s bowling allows others to take the spoils, the batsmanship of Kallis has enabled his countrymen to play with greater freedom – they can attack bowlers worn into the dirt by a proud South African. A large South African total is regularly built around him allowing others to flourish while he acts as the glue.
Kallis may not display the sparkling stroke play of Lara, the arrogant dominance of Ponting or the nonchalant brilliance of Tendulkar, but he puts a value on his wicket few batsmen, if any, can equal and his success parallels that of his contemporaries. At test level, isn’t the key to keep your wicket intact and score more runs than the opposition? An overly simplistic view perhaps, but many in the modern game would do well to heed it. Ask avid cricket watchers the world over who they would pick if they needed someone to bat when they couldn’t afford a failure – Kallis would sit top of the list, alongside Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid; few would choose Chappell’s triumvirate.
Kallis can attack like some of the game’s power players but he takes a more pragmatic view of the his place in the game, and his value to his teammates and country – runs aren’t accumulated, or bullied, when you’re sitting in the pavilion with little more than your thoughts and a dose of guilt to keep you company. Knocks like his maiden double century against India at Centurion in late 2010 illustrate Kallis’ ability to score at a greater clip, but he has the wherewithal to understand where his greatest influence lies.
Consider this - crowds applaud when the ball is deposited to all parts but teammates, and a nation of cricket lovers, will hold a place in their hearts for a batsman who delivers more regularly than the postman and consistently adds backbone to an already powerful batting line-up.
Kallis’ exploits as a batting all-rounder are fodder for another day but it would be amiss not to mention them in passing. Couple his batsmanship with his ability with a ball, more as a golden arm with each passing season, and hands like mitts and his value to any side would struggle for peer. It’s difficult to compare players across generations - quality of opposition, pitches and conditions make it a futile exercise. Of the modern crop, Kallis sits well clear of a field lacking little more than pretenders but with apologies to his supporters he will always sit behind Sir Garfield, though he’s only one seat back.
Does Kallis sit at the top of the list of modern batting greats? No, but that was never the point of this piece – even if he was, what weight does the opinion of an amateur hack hold? He deserves his place in the company of Tendulkar, Ponting and Lara – the manner of his attack should not sully his record. If Kallis played more freely he would hold a more prominent place in the minds of many but his place in the hearts of the few would likely be diminished. Like a singer who sells more records after his death, will followers of our great game only realise Kallis’ true genius after Channel 9 has ‘immortalised’ his career in a limited edition lithograph?
As an aside, Chappelli and I agree on one thing – “if you told me I could pick just one ….I'd take Lara. I loved the way he played spin bowling and I admired his determination to always do it ‘my way’”.
This is not a complete statistical analysis or a view based on watching every innings - it’s the personal view of a part time blogger. If you disagree with my views, give me yours. More is often learned through the comments of others than careful introspection and well cultivated self-importance. Post a comment below or send me a tweet @aotearoaxi.