From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.03 :: Jan. 19, 2012

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CRICKET / APPRECIATION

Unsung hero

Jacques Kallis currently stands fourth in the list of highest run-getters in Tests, behind Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting and he is the second highest century-maker. His 274 wickets and 180 catches also add to the allure of a great all-rounder, who strangely never gets the reverence that is reserved for Sir Garfield Sobers nor the anecdotal-worship that men like Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee garner even now, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The best things in life are taken for granted: be it parents' love, a spouse's shoulder or a friend's warmth. But this truism may offer paltry consolation to Jacques Kallis, who has often lived in the fringes of cricketing consciousness despite his overwhelming numbers that point out to a supreme player with a sparkling 16-year career of top-flight cricket.

Even in his rainbow nation, cricketing discussions in the immediate past have often lapsed into the ‘what-could-have-been' while mulling over greats such as Barry Richards, who could not adequately express their talent at the highest level due to the isolation of the then racism-stigmatised South Africa. Add to it the perennial counter-arguments against the whispers of the ‘South-African-choke' and the latent defence of the late Hansie Cronje. Lost in the clamour is the sheer endurance of Kallis, who has batted solidly, caught well and bowled effectively.

Kallis (12,260) currently stands fourth in the list of highest run-getters in Tests, behind Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting and he is the second highest century-maker (41). His 274 wickets and 180 catches also add to the allure of a great all-rounder, who strangely never gets the reverence that is reserved for Sir Garfield Sobers (8,032 runs, 235 wickets) nor the anecdotal-worship that men like Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee garner even now.

The success that Kallis enjoys in Tests has found reflection in the shorter formats too as his 11372 ODI runs and 267 wickets indicate. Recently, the ‘most stubborn man in the world', as skipper Graeme Smith called him, made his 150th Test even more special with a 224 (325b, 31x4, 1x6) that set up the Proteas' series-deciding 10-wicket victory over Sri Lanka at Newlands in Cape Town. Walking into what was a historical signpost for him, Kallis was fending off the cold statistics of despair — a paltry yield of 58 in the two Tests against Australia and a pair in the previous game against Sri Lanka.

Confidence is second nature to great players and Kallis said: “You don't become a bad player overnight. It is crazy to see stuff like ‘you are old and you can't do this or that!' He reiterated his value again while South Africa also reaped the rewards from the tons that emanated from Alviro Petersen and A. B. de Villiers' bats.

It was a reflection of the gradual change in guard with de Villiers expected to take South Africa forward in the years to come along withHashim Amla but at 36, Kallis is not done yet and stirs reverence within his peers — the most vocal being Mark Boucher, who never tires of saying that his friend never got the credit that he truly deserves.

Kallis unfortunately plays in an era when the batting brownie points are owned by the trio of Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ponting though Dravid also, much like the understated South African, laid his rightful claim to greatness. In bowling, Kallis had to contend with the shadows cast within his team by greats such as Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and now Dale Steyn. On a wider canvas, his best years as a seamer coincided with the career-spans of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Anil Kumble. And, as for catching, critics were taken in by the grace of Mark Waugh and the certainty of Dravid.

Kallis had a finger in every pie that defines cricket — batting, bowling and fielding. In all these individual spheres he may not be the supreme-best but when you add all these parts together, you get a player, who is perhaps the most-complete package that has blessed the game ever since shepherds clouted a ball with stout branches in distant England many centuries ago.

An insular man by nature, Kallis has also conveyed the impression that he is too caught up in his own game. The ‘slow-turtle' act has often tainted his legacy especially in the limited overs versions where Kallis fatally delays the fifth gear. Shane Warne wrote in his book ‘My Top 100 Test Cricketers': “If I wanted to save a game, Kallis would be high on the list of batsmen I would choose for the task. But there are other times when he hasn't used the full range of his shots and taken the game away from the opposition.”

During the Indian Premier League's inaugural run in 2008, Kallis' tardy and meagre runs and expensive bowling was a key factor in the downfall of Royal Challengers Bangalore. It was a phase when Kallis sulked with his omission from the South African squad for the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007.

It was not as though Kallis knew only the dour approach. He could clout mighty sixes but largely bred within a team that had Herschelle Gibbs atop the order before Smith made his mark. There were players like Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener during his initial years and Kallis was the ballast that allowed others to display their varying characteristics.

As a bowler, Kallis could bowl a mean bouncer but coming as he did behind Donald or Steyn, he was often expected to keep it tight. The man, who primarily draws his strength from batting, had no issues in accepting his second-fiddle bowling role and over the years he has tried to get past his meditative stint at the crease and has played some rousing strokes. He firmed up his feet back in the South African limited overs' sides and also improved his stature with RCB before turning up for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the last IPL.

Most batsmen have issues with deliveries that zoom towards their heads and Kallis has had his share of doubters and a year back — a Sreesanth snorter that scalped him became a gripping photograph that graced all papers. However in the same series, Kallis also scored an unbeaten 201, 161 and 109 not out. In the larger picture, Kallis' foibles are few and his place in the game's history is assured. Dr. Ali Bacher, the last word on South African cricket, wrote in his biography ‘Ali' that ‘Kallis will go down in history as South Africa's most successful Test and ODI cricketer.' The lines were written in 2004 and over the last seven years, the Kallis legend has grown in an unobtrusive way while the Tendulkars and the Muralitharans drew all the attention.

If South Africa, despite its chokers' tag, continues to be a force to reckon with over the last decade and a half, it is thanks largely to Kallis. Warne wrote in his book, “South Africa should appreciate him whilst he is playing, as he will be a tough player to replace.” Kallis would gladly take that tribute from a respected rival. Thankfully for South Africa, he is not finished yet.



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