Kallis – The Unsung Hero
It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it. An entire article, dedicated to highlighting Kallis’ status as an under-the-radar great.
For a great he is. His status as one of the top two batting all-rounders of all-time is unquestioned, and he is the first name entered onto a South African All-Time Greatest XI. He is bulldozing his way towards becoming the first cricketer ever to score 13000 runs as well as claim 300 wickets in Tests – a feat not even close to being paralleled as of now, and one that seems unlikely to be surpassed in the foreseeable future.
That much is universally accepted, and rightly so. What isn’t quite as convincingly accepted is the claim of his fanboys that he is on a par with Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting on batting alone. Is he?
Kallis has the best batting average of the bunch, but this is often muffled by claims that he is a minnow bully, which has bumped up his batting average. However, after the removal of matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, he still sits with the highest test average out of the foursome.
Some would consider New Zealand and Sri Lanka to be easy pickings too, so I tested the stats with them removed. Kallis still easily came out on top.
Of course, Ponting and Lara’s statistics both include their end-of-career slumps, which must be taken into consideration. So too has Tendulkar suffered from an age-induced slump over the past year or so. The gap between the respective averages, though, highlights the leeway Kallis still has during his expected forthcoming slump. That said, his age of 37 combined with his extra responsibility of bowling should means that he should already be suffering from a slump. His maintained ability is something else that should distinguish him as a class act in itself.
Why, then, is Kallis generally seen as being a step below the other three on crickets ladder of batting legends? Well, the answer is quite simple. His X-factor is often seen as a negative when being judged against the X-factors of his competitors. Tendulkar successfully carried the weight of a billion people’s hopes on his shoulders, and did so in arguably the most elegant manner ever witnessed in the history of Test cricket. Lara personified a unique flair that made him an absolute joy to watch, and he managed to maintain this flair despite being in a weak batting line-up. Ponting led one of the greatest teams in history with a hard-nosed, gritty manner.
Kallis? He is the most solid batsman of his generation. Rahul Dravid was nicknamed “the wall,” in comparison, Kallis was and is “the kevlar-coated wall of lead.” He had the ability to stick it out for hours in the most gruelling of circumstances. Noone of his generation could, or can, compete with Kallis in the defensive stakes.
This ability often proved to be his biggest criticism. He was often labelled as “selfish” and “boring,” but what he brought to a fragile South African batting line-up was absolutely invaluable. Even as one of his biggest fans I’ll admit that he sometimes defended too much when the situation needed aggression, but no player is perfect. Even Donald Bradman was only 99.94% perfection.
Another idea often vaunted by Kallis fans is that he could have performed even better, to a point where he would have easily trumped the other big names, had he not had the added responsibility of his heavy-handed pace bowling assaulting his body and mind. It is, however, an alternate story impossible to be authored definitively. All we can base our judgement on is how he actually performed. And that happens to be pretty darn well.
So then, what is my conclusion? Is Kallis on a par with the likes of Tendulkar, Ponting and Lara? Statistically – most certainly. The foursome possess stats similar enough that judgement of their rankings within the group is, and forever will be, incredibly subjective. A boring cricketer like Kallis, therefore, will always get the short end of the stick in these debates.
The man has learnt to embrace it. A more humble cricketer would be hard to find, and it all fits perfectly. Kallis will remain the unsung legend of his generation – for now. His true worth will be realised when he is gone from Test cricket.
He entertains minimal glitz or glamour comments from the majority of fans now while his career is still ongoing. And that’s just how the big man likes it.