“When he retired, people lauded him with appreciation but never really understood what his loss meant. It’s five years since he left the playing field, but South Africa have still not managed to fill the humungous crater of a hole that he left in the side. They probably never will. That alone defines Jacques Kallis’ legacy”.
“He scored runs for fun, swung it both ways, could hit you in the head and had hands like buckets.”
Paul Collingwood’s tweet at the time of Jacques Kallis’ retirement best sums up the legend of the South African all-rounder.
Oodles of concentration mixed with flair, elegance and elan made him a batsman that bowlers dreaded bowling to. When the skipper needed a bowler to allow his premier quickies to take a breather, Kallis stepped up and bowled as well as any of them. Oh, how batsmen dreaded watching him steam in after Pollock, Ntini and Donald or Morkel and Steyn. With his extraordinarily safe hands, he ensured he was in the game even when batting or bowling.
In short, he was effective. He doesn’t put on a show for the crowds but from a team’s perspective, he was 24-carat gold.
“These days it’s all about entertainment, being easy on the eye. It’s not about effectiveness, the role that you play or how much you’re worth to a team,” England batsman, Jonathan Trott says in an interview.
“It’s ridiculous,” he continues. “People go with Tendulkar and Lara because of the way that they watch cricket, but if you stack him up against anybody, he’s the best.”
Trott is spot on in his analysis of Kallis.
The South African all-rounder is widely regarded as the second best all-rounder after Garry Sobers. Although questions of who is better among the two still rage on, a telling statistical study definitely puts Kallis on the forefront.
In 280 innings, Kallis racked up 13289 runs at an average of 55.37 including 45 hundreds and 58 half-centuries. Sachin Tendulkar played 49 innings’ more than Kallis, made 2000 runs more, 6 hundreds and 10 half-centuries more and averaged lesser than Kallis.
Considering Kallis’ batting average and frequency of hundreds, it is fairly predictable that if he had equalled the Tendulkar in terms of innings’ played, he would have gone above him in terms of statistics at least.
On the other hand, Kallis’ bowling record reads 292 wickets in 166 Tests at an average of 32.65. Left-arm Indian seamer, Zaheer Khan, often considered the best Indian seamer since Kapil Dev, had 311 wickets in his career at an average of 32.94.
What this simple study shows is that Kallis added as much value as Tendulkar and Zaheer combined. The after-effects of Kallis’ retirement still runs deep in the South African side as they are in an eternal search for the perfect all-rounder.
With Kallis, the Proteas often played 12 players and could afford to slack off and go in with one bastman or one bowler less. The incredible balance he provided to the side was felt only when his absence became a shrewd reality.
Perhaps a reason why Kallis does not quite have the fan following of a Gary Sobers, Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff or Imran Khan was as because, he barely catered to the crowd. He played for the team, stood unflinching, unmoved in the face of strife.
“I worried about what my close friends, teammates and coaches had to say, but the rest… it never bothered me at all. Honestly, the only recognition I looked for was that we won games of cricket. It was never about who I was or what I achieved, it was something that never crossed my mind.To this day it doesn’t cross my mind. I think that probably helped me throughout my career,” Kallis says of the method that worked for him.
His unwavering concentration and perseverance saw him through some of South Africa’s toughest tours in its rise through to one of the top Test nations in the World.
Perhaps one another factor that pegged back Kallis was that he never quite had a monumental series like Flintoff in Ashes 2005. He would obviously figure in most all-round statistics list but in a series, he took 250+ runs and 20+ wickets only once – against West Indies in 2000/01 – but he wasn’t even the best all-rounder in the team during that tour with Shaun Pollock bettering him in terms of runs and equalling him in terms of wickets.
What probably distanced him from cricket fans was his seemingly stuck-in-a-shell approach. While it is believed to have saved the Proteas a lot of Tests, it didn’t quite win them Tests like Ricky Ponting did for Australia or Sachin Tendulkar for India or so the fans thought.
The peculiar accusations against Kallis buds from the manner in which he batted rather than his value which further reinstates Trott’s statements. He did what the team needed. When he denied viewers the pleasure of a fabulous cover drive, he was restraining himself for the team. In a brittle batting line-up, Kallis was the rock, hard, impermeable and unrecognised.
If he had the kind of players Ricky Ponting or Sachin Tendulkar had, Kallis would most certainly have played differently. It wasn’t that he couldn’t. It was that he chose not to. In denying the viewers of the aesthetic pleasures of modern day batting, Kallis was containing himself. Team dynamics required him to sacrifice his flamboyance and shed his flair.
In a telling statistic that Tom Eaton analysed for ESPNCricinfo, Kallis is seen averaging above 50 at whatever point he came in to bat (score, less 20, 21-49, 50-99, 100-149 or 150 and above).
When he retired, people lauded him with appreciation but never really understood what his loss meant. It’s five years since he left the playing field, but South Africa have still not managed to fill the humungous crater of a hole that he left in the side. They probably never will. That alone defines Jacques Kallis’ legacy.