The case for Kallis to be considered the best of the lot

Jacques Kallis having recently hit a cricket ball using a cricket bat

Before we begin, let us just say that we don’t believe in comparing players or ranking them. We’re now going to do precisely that as a kind of academic exercise, primarily to piss off a load of people who will always hold Jacques Kallis in somewhat lower regard than many other cricketers and who will continue to do so regardless of what we say here.

Batsmen v all-rounders

We always find ourself disproportionately annoyed when Michael Vaughan or Andrew Strauss or someone refers to Kevin Pietersen as being ‘England’s best player’.

Hardly. He can’t bowl for shit.

An example we’ve given in the past involved pitting 11 Don Bradmans against 11 Garry Sobers. The rather obvious point this made was that cricket does actually involve bowling and so the best cricketers are those that can both bat and bowl.

Jacques Kallis fits that description better than most.

Batting

It’s odd, but Jacques Kallis’ batting is probably underrated. His Test batting average of 55.37 is currently the 15th highest of all time, above contemporaries such as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. However, it masks the fact that very few of his 45 Test hundreds were ‘daddies’.

Only twice did Kallis bolster his average by passing 200. Compare this to Virender Sehwag who passed 200 six times and 300 twice out of just(?) 23 Test hundreds. Jacques didn’t really do biggies, so he had to score more consistently.

Okay, those 40 red-inkers had a hell of an impact, but it’s also true that South Africa have gone through phases where they’ve produced seam-friendly pitches so he’s been up against that as well.

Jacques Kallis just sort of standing there, looking a bit blank

Bowling

They always call Kallis a reluctant bowler, but he’s averaged 24 overs a Test match over the course of his career. That’s a lot of work for a man who spent at least a couple of those years as a fat bastard.

You don’t pick up 292 Test wickets without being half-decent either. He may have benefited from being asked to bowl more when conditions have suited him, but you could also say that he’s sometimes not been needed when conditions have been most helpful.

Plus he was quick when the mood took him. Someone (we forget whom and aren’t in the mood for research, but it was someone you’d expect to be a decent judge of these things) once told a story about Kallis getting pissed off about something and bowling far quicker than Allan Donald at the other end. He had it in him.

Short format cricket

The main foundation of the case in favour of  Kallis being considered the best of the lot is simply the fact that he’s the finest all-rounder to have played in the modern three-format era.

One-day cricket and then Twenty20 cricket beneath that make different demands on a player and although Kallis appeared almost entirely unsuited to these formats with his careful batting approach, he revealed himself to be if not exceptional at these shorter formats, then certainly well worth his place.

Many boxes ticked

Look, we’re not really saying that Jacques Kallis is the greatest player of all time. We’re just pointing out that where even a half-arsed case can be made, you’re talking about someone who’s moving in those circles.

His exceptional career is too often dismissed with a terse: “Yeah, but he was just a blocker” – or words to that effect. But this was a guy who had to bat pragmatically because for many years the rest of his team’s batting wasn’t all that and if he didn’t score, they lost.

He managed this despite shouldering a workload few have matched – hours of batting and hours of bowling in three different formats. How he didn’t buckle long ago is freakish in itself.

We’ll genuinely miss him. Flaws there may be, but such comprehensive mastery of a sport is a very rare thing indeed.

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26 Appeals

  1. I like Kallis, so this isn’t meant to be a rebuttal. But cricket is a team sport in which winning is done by and for a team. So the best player is the one who turns the most potential losses into draws, and the most likely draws into wins, irrespective of what method they use to achieve that. It makes no difference if that player can do many things or one thing. Ian Bell did this for England in the summer. He was the best overall cricket player (*), even though his bowling was so bad he never got asked.

    (*) A new form of pyjama cricket designed to appeal to the working man.

    • King Cricket

      December 31, 2013 at 11:39 am

      We’ll try and think in those terms next time we hear that phrase. It’s just the nagging suspicion that whoever’s saying it doesn’t actually mean that.

  2. Just an incredible cricketer. The only surprise was that he decided to retire now, you feel he could have gone on batting and bowling and catching, to the same level, into his forties.

    It would be great if somebody more technically proficient than myself could re-do his stats in a pre- and post-hair transplant format, to see if there is any evidence it helped or hindered his career at all? Thanking you in advance.

  3. What a load of tosh. Kallis was a fat bastard for many more than a couple of years.

    Which, obviously, should further augment the positives column.

    SA will miss him a lot.

  4. I enjoyed the fact that he looked pretty much the same in 2013 as he did in 1998.

  5. Brilliant player, definitely among the best batsmen/all-rounder of his generation. But I think his bowling gets hyped as much as his batting is underrated. He averages 1.75 wickets per match and bowls half the number of overs a front line bowler would bowl. His batting numbers would have been far worse if he had to play as a fourth bowler. Pollock was as good an all-rounder as Kallis was (average 32 with the bat and 23 with the ball), never gets mentioned as such. How would 11 Kallis’ fare against 11 Pollocks?

  6. The “best of the lot” has a shortlist of 2 – Sobers and Kallis. Statistically almost impossible to split. As much as there is talk of the difficulty in playing on ‘uncovered pitches’, I think the fact that the modern era consists of full time professional players with a massive entourage of support staff ready to analyse and dissect a players weaknesses make collecting those stats harder.
    So, yes – the best of the lot. Probably.

    • With you on that shortlist, wolf, but it really is impossible to compare across the eras.

      I had the honour of watching Kallis play live – many times in fact.

      In the case of Sobers, cruelly, the great man was once subjected to the indignity of watching me play, whereas I sadly never witnessed him play live.

      Genuine all-rounders appear very rarely.

      The Sobers era was fairly quickly followed by the era of the West Indian great quicks – that smoothed Sobers’ departure.

      Oh boy, I expect South Africa will end up missing Kallis terribly.

    • I think you should add at least Imran Khan (and some of the others of his era) to that list. Bowling all rounders appear to get marginalised here but are more likely to be the bigger match winners in cricket.

    • That’s the “best of the rest”, the shortlist consisting of Imran, Botham, Hadlee, Dev, Flintoff and Pollock. Probably in order.
      Watson had the potential to be on that list but he doesn’t bowl anywhere near enough to be considered.

    • King Cricket

      January 2, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Come on, Imran took 362 wickets at a better average than Dale Steyn and had a more than respectable batting record. He’s in the Kallis-Sobers bracket, even if he approached it from the opposite direction.

    • I guess to be fair that shortlist would also contain specialists such as Bradman,Sidney Barnes, Akram etc.

    • As for Imran, yes in the last 6 years he was that good, but his batting was respectable rather than brilliant in his early career.

    • King Cricket

      January 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      But by the same token, would you say that Kallis’s bowling has been ‘brilliant’ or, for all the variety and technical proficiency, that Sobers’ was?

    • For all of Sobers brilliance Kallis has taken significantly more wickets in fewer deliveries. But yes, its a hard call.
      What I don’t understand is why they talk about ONE all rounders spot in a best ever team. Surely you would take BOTH Kallis and Sobers in any XI?

    • King Cricket

      January 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      And Imran.

      Hell, an entire team of all-time great all-rounders would stand a good chance against a team of all-time great specialists because you’d have so many bases covered.

      And just imagine how dispiriting it would be to take the ninth wicket only to see Beefy walk out.

    • While Kallis has taken more wickets, Sobers actually shouldered the burden of being a frontline bowler for his team, he bowled more deliveries than Kallis in about half the number of matches.
      Kallis had the luxury of playing in a team with a strong bowling line-up Donald, Pollock, Steyn are in the top 25 in all time bowling averages and with a strike rate of 45-55. There is a huge difference between bowling 50 overs a match and 20 overs a match.
      The point was not on picking one player but on the best of the lot list – while the combination of batting and bowling averages of 55 and 33 may look a lot better than 37 and 23, I don’t think there is much to choose between them. Forget best of the lot but just limiting the best all rounders list to Sobers and Kallis does a huge disservice to those who had bowling as their stronger suit.

    • Absotively. I’ll take Hadlee, who always gets missed off all-rounder lists.

  7. I reckon Craig White was better.

  8. Kallis might’ve snuck into the side on the strength of his bowling alone, but he wouldn’t have made 100-and-whatever tests. Neither 11 Kallises nor 11 Soberses would get 20 Bradmans out in five days, so that’s a certain hypothetical draw.

    Who’s next? Sangakkara? Chanderpaul? Younis Khan? That’ll probably be it for the first generation of great players I saw.. I don’t feel the same way about their successors. It’s all quite sad, really

  9. But Kevin Pietersen *is* England’s best player.

    • Having just watched the wonderful ‘From the Ashes’, I reckon a Mr Botham might have something to say about that.

  10. Greatest cricketer to date without a doubt. Batting 6 is a hell of lot easier than 3 to 4.And Sobers simply does not compare in the bowling stakes. Remember that his home games had to be played on the most diffcult pitches in the universe.
    Did you know Kallis hit more boundries per innings than Sobers? Kallis is never flamboyant, none of that ‘look at me’crap. He just does it. All the time. His slip catcing was phenomenal. No fuss or bother but brilliant execution.
    And tell me whoever played the most difficult shot in cricket better? He is the master of the cover drive.All superb balance with minimum fuss. A coaching manual in action.
    SA will miss him badly.
    It has been a privilege to watch him and to realise that he never sledged, never belittled others. He did not have to.
    The ultimate quiet achiever.

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