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Is Jacques Kallis Test Cricket's Unsung Hero?

Jacques Kallis is within striking distance of Sachin Tendulkar's record of most Test centuries. Yet, we have heard so little about his batting

Published: Dec 11, 2012 06:20:10 AM IST
Updated: Feb 21, 2014 12:25:53 PM IST
Is Jacques Kallis Test Cricket's Unsung Hero?
Image: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images
Jacques Kallis, the South African all-rounder

While Indian cricket fans are busy debating  Sachin Tendulkar’s cricketing future, a lesser-celebrated but almost as great a player has been climbing up the ladder.

Jacques Kallis, the South African all-rounder, could soon be the man to take away Tendulkar’s most prized achievement—that of maximum Test centuries.

By the end of the second Test between India and England, 37-year-old Kallis had 44 Test hundreds as against 51 by the 39-year-old Tendulkar. It is also significant that over the last two years, Kallis has scored nine centuries at an average of 62.58, as against Tendulkar’s two at an average of 35.72.

Still why is it that Kallis’ ability to beat Tendulkar’s record appears somewhat sudden? There’s also a distinct unease among Indians while entertaining the proposition that a dourly Kallis could overwhelm the charismatic Tendulkar.

There’s a deep chasm in the way we rate Tendulkar (or even Laxman and Sehwag) as against Kallis. We have appreciation for many of India’s tormentors, like Shane Warne, Wasim Akram and Sanath Jayasuriya, but despite his high average and prolific scoring, Kallis fails to excite us.

Is it because he hasn’t played a memorable, impactful knock against us? Or is it because we value the Sehwag style of result-oriented, swashbuckling batting more than the Kallis (or even Dravid) kind of stealth and consistency? Would we have celebrated Kallis far more had he hailed from the subcontinent where the bulk of cricketing might resides?

Is Jacques Kallis Test Cricket's Unsung Hero?
Let us look at some numbers. Against India, Kallis has hit six centuries, three of them for a winning cause; but there’s a caveat: Kallis has bagged top honours only once. On the other two occasions, his teammates Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers scored bigger.

This is reflective of Kallis’ entire career. At the top of the order, he almost always sets up the match, while someone else comes along, scores a bigger hundred, turns the match on and hogs the limelight.

Out of the 42 Tests that fetched him his 44 centuries, his score was the highest [of the innings or of the match] on 15 occasions only. That is a telling statistic because there was invariably someone else, either in his team or in the opposition, who went on to score more than him.

That explains why Kallis failed to find a place in the worldwide poll for ICC’s Greatest Test Team in 2011, despite beating batting greats like Ponting, Dravid and Lara on most counts.

“I think Kallis is a connoisseur’s cricketer rather than a seat-grabber. He is like the concrete that holds up a building rather than the laminate that gives it the gloss,” says cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle.

In the 42 matches where Kallis has scored a hundred or more, South Africa has lost only thrice. Clearly, a Kallis century almost ensures that his team cannot be beaten.  

But his influence is not limited to batting alone. Besides his centuries, he has often been tossed the ball at first change. He bowls long spells and picks up crucial wickets. But in bowling, too, the more celebrated regular bowlers in the South African side, Dale Steyn or Makhaya Ntini, end up stealing the limelight. (Kallis has picked up 282 Test wickets so far.)

Solely on the count of batsmanship, Kallis hasn’t given us any well-etched memory, unlike Ponting, whom one can imagine flicking the bowler over mid-wicket or Jayasuriya, cutting a short-pitched delivery for a six over third man.

Latika Khaneja, a well-known sports manager, has a far more brutal take on this. She feels that excitement and recall among followers are closely related to charisma. David Beckham and Tiger Woods aren’t the best, yet they sell because of Beckham’s maverick lifestyle or Woods’ fairytale story. “Kallis doesn’t have a story,” she says.

Let’s put it to test.

If you have to recall one outstanding memory of Jacques Kallis, Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald and Lance Klusener, what comes to your mind first?

(This story appears in the 21 December, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Abhilash Mohanan

    I think kallis is the best player in tests.Just have a look at his test career! about 13000 runs, 300 wickets and 200 catches! what an amazing career he has!

    on May 12, 2014
  • Yahpal

    Kallis is no doubt the best cricketer than Sachin. It is the media which gave so much of exposer to sachin, otherwise many legendary like The Great Don Bradman, Sir viv Richards and Kapil retired from cricket, but all went in silence. And Sachin should not be compared with God. It is an insult of God.

    on Nov 16, 2013
  • Imdad Ali Chanihon

    I thnk kallis is great all rounder in every format. Kallis, lara and ponting are much better than sachin. To compare kallis with sachin equals to compare elephent with aunt. So geo kallis.

    on Oct 7, 2013
    • Prakash

      No one is better than sachin.

      on Oct 23, 2013
  • Aditya Saxena

    Being an Indian it is always different to look at something other than Sachin Tendulkar. However there is no doubt that Kallis scores above Tendulkar and by far. Both are amazing but Kallis is the superman and not sachin.

    on Feb 12, 2013
  • Faeq

    Kallis is much better than any of these coz no one can score 13000 runs and tace more than 284 wickets he is the greatest cricketer to play the game of cricket all others are only batsmen but still kallis has a better avarege than all others and if people say one run out of jhonty or one spell of bowling from donald or one series of klusner can thses things will ever be compared to kallis he has been the best since 17 years now. in veiw he is the bester is the bester was and thester ever will be no one can ever dream of matching kallis.....................................

    on Jan 19, 2013
  • Dipankar Sen Roy

    It will be grossly unfair to measure Kallis in these small measures. Apart from appreciating his scoring so prolifically, one has to consider the South African wickets, where the balls swings and bounce in such ways that scoring is not as easy as it in flatter pitches of the sub-continent. Here is where scored most of his runs, whereas here is where other greats have often failed. Now, notwithstanding his injuries, consider his wicket taking abilities. Also his firm hands in the slips that would make any captain proud. So much is his competence that he even succeeds in the T20 variety without playing many non-cricketing strokes. He is a class apart, if not only the very best, so far as cricket goes. And talking about popularity, the corporate media knows better.

    on Jan 14, 2013
  • Ian

    His career is a long standout moment. His greatness comes from tempering an exuberant batting style that characterized his early career, to becoming a foundation that held the SA team together. Also, he manages to adapt his game to all formats, condition and situations like no other batsman in the history of the game. He respects his opponents and competes fairly and with modesty unbeknownst in modern sport. And he is 29th on the list of all time wicket takers! Nuff said! Respect!

    on Jan 11, 2013
  • Pankaj

    Kallis is a Great, but has missed Moments of Greatness which are itched in memory forever. Like Jhonty - The Run out or Flying Catch, Alan Donald - Destroying Opposition, Lance Kluesener - Tearing Bowlers at World Cup

    on Dec 19, 2012
  • Hamza

    If you have to recall one outstanding memory of Sachin Tendulkar, Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald and Lance Klusener, what comes to your mind first? I dont think it will be tendulkar.

    on Dec 14, 2012
  • Ajay

    Allan Donald - That stupid run out of his in the semi final of the World Cup against Australia

    on Dec 14, 2012
  • Jag

    on Dec 12, 2012
  • Siddhesh Sawant

    Aptly said in this article , kallis has always been overshadowed. He might not have class like tendulkar , but he has stood up for Proteans almost everytime. He is been excellent in all 3 departments over the years. He should get some respect at least when he retires .

    on Dec 12, 2012
  • Shravan

    Unfortunately my only outstanding memory of those players was the infamous run-out in the 99 World Cup semi final. Why didn\'t you run, Alan??? That being said, I\'m sure I will remember this current SA side. Especially Amla\'s 300 againt England, AB\'s 250 ball 33 to save a test match and Dale Steyn\'s fire with the new ball.

    on Dec 12, 2012