Next up in the All Out Cricket feature on cricket’s most underrated players, he might not stir the senses like Sobers, Sachin or Lara, but Jacques Kallis deserves to be recognised as their equal, writes Jo Harman.
Jonathan Trott once told us that if he had £20 in his pocket and he had to spend it watching one cricketer, he’d choose Jacques Kallis. “You can’t think of a better player,” he said. “He’s got everything: power, patience, timing. He’s the best ever.”
Personally, I’ve never especially enjoyed watching Kallis. There’s something so mechanical about his technique, his approach, his whole mentality that I’ve struggled to take much joy from his phenomenal accomplishments. He’s so unmoved by his environment that there’s an almost eerie detachment about him.
South African scribe Telford Vice once wrote in these pages: “Nelson, stood stonily atop his column in Trafalgar Square, is more likely to lash out at a diarrhetic pigeon than Kallis is to allow anything or anyone to change his mind or his method.”
Of course there’s something admirable in that but I find it makes him hard to love. I like to see some fallibility in my sportsmen; it makes them easier to relate to. A Kallis century would rarely see the hacks eagerly reaching for their keyboards. We’d seen it all before, almost to the shot. It’s almost as though his innings were pre-programmed.
But when it comes to judging Kallis’ ability and his contribution in an international career spanning nearly 20 years, Trott’s argument is a strong one. Put simply, he has no equal in the modern era, and very few in the game’s history.
Alongside Sachin, Lara, Ponting, Dravid and Sanga, he is one of the six big beasts of modern batting. Of those, only Sangakkara has a better average (57 compared to 55) and only Tendulkar has scored more tons (51 to 45). Throw in 577 international wickets and more than 300 catches, and you have a truly extraordinary cricketer.
Even compared to the greatest allrounder that ever walked the planet, Kallis holds his own, averaging just two runs fewer with the bat than Sobers and boasting a superior bowling record.
It’s rare, though, that Kallis is lauded in the same terms as Sobers, Sachin or Lara. There’s an almost grudging acceptance of his excellence that’s rarely accompanied by a true appreciation of his standing in the game. He might not have had me glued to the sofa, but he’s undoubtedly one the greatest Test cricket has seen.