A befitting honour for the Sobers of our generation

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 28, 2012 10:52 hrs

It might seem to be an incongruous idea for the Indian team to go all the way to South Africa to play just one T20 international. What however softens the sheer futility of the whole exercise is that the match is being played in honour of Jacques Kallis - surely one of the marvels of the modern game.

With cricket these days being played round the year in its many formats, it is not easy to be injury free. It is well known that cricketers are finding it difficult to maintain the hectic schedule and either opt out of one format or skip tours and tournaments to remain fit. But not only does Kallis play all formats and does not skip trips or competitions, he is still able to maintain his reputation as the leading all rounder in the game.

The genuine all rounder is the first casualty of the non-stop cricketing schedule for the burden he carries is almost impossible to bear. Having to bat, bowl and field at the highest international levels for over 16 years these days would be an unbelievable feat.

A look at the careers of some of the leading all rounders of the modern era like Chris Cairns, Andrew Flintoff and Shaun Pollock would indicate how difficult it is to set high standards and maintain it. All of them packed it in after ten, 12 or 14 years.

It is a tribute to both Kallis' fitness and cricketing skills that at 36 and after 152 Tests and 321 ODIs and 16 T-20 internationals, he is nowhere near the end of his career. He is still playing all three formats, still reeling off hundreds, still taking three or four wickets a Test and doing more than his bit for South Africa in the limited overs game.

What's the secret behind his awesome achievements? Kallis himself summed it up in an interview a short while ago. Asked for the reasons for his success and what keeps him going he replied: "I set myself really high standards, I'm never satisfied with mediocrity, and I enjoy what I do."

With that kind of winning philosophy, is it any wonder that Kallis is not only the finest player produced by South Africa in all its long history but also takes his place alongside Garry Sobers as the greatest all rounder ever in the game. It may sound sacrilegious to bracket anyone with Sobers but Kallis has earned it by sheer force of figures, his dynamic ubiquitous skills and his longevity.

Sobers of course is considered numero uno when it comes to all rounders. He could bat (8032 runs in 93 Tests, 26 centuries, top score of 365 not out, average 57.78), he could bowl (235 wickets, average 34, six five-wicket hauls) and he could field just about anywhere (109 catches, mostly blinders in the slips or short leg).

There would never be anyone like him, they said. Little wonder he finished second with 90 votes to Don Bradman's 100 votes in the Wisden Cricketer of the 20th Century poll.

As someone who belongs to the Sobers generation - I grew up in the sixties when he was at his peak - I marvelled at his ability to turn the match around, to hit big centuries, to bowl both fast medium and slow chinamen and pick up catches effortlessly. And yet here I am marvelling at the feats of Kallis, gaping wide eyed at his achievements.

Yes, eye rubbing and mind boggling would be the best way to describe Kallis' record in both Tests and ODIs - and somehow even that seems inadequate. But it is the similarity to Sobers' figures that catches the eye. Kallis has played around 60 Tests more than Sobers and has scored 12,379 runs from 152 matches, 42 hundreds, top score of 224, average 56.78, 276 wickets, average 32, five five-wicket hauls, 181 catches. Kallis is verily the Sobers of this generation.

But all these amazing figures are only half the story for Kallis has run up a similarly successful career in ODIs. Sobers played just one ODI in his career so one can't really compare in the manner their Test careers can be compared but the burly South African stands alone among all those who have played limited overs cricket. Kallis' achievement is unparalleled.

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Almost 11,500 runs at a very impressive average of more than 45 and a par strike rate of nearly 73 with 17 hundreds and 85 half centuries alone would testify to his greatness. But when this is allied to 270 wickets at an average of 31.69, an economy rate of 4.82 and a strike rate of 39.3, it can be seen why Kallis' figures are of the eye rubbing and mind boggling variety.

And to think that he is still carrying on with his sturdy figure standing up admirably to the growing demands of today's international game even as he talks of taking part in the 2015 World Cup! He will be in his 40th year but despite the several awards that he has won he still wants the World Cup winning medal around his neck.

Of course Kallis has faced the charge more than once that he bats for his average, that he is unable to force the pace, that he puts his interests above his teams. He has met this accusation head on for a Geoff Boycott he is not. Besides immaculate defence, Kallis has a wide range of strokes on both sides of the wicket; he is also not afraid to loft the ball. His value to the side is quite immeasurable.

To the casual observer it would be easy to dismiss Kallis' bowling as run of the mill, up and down stuff, military medium and in other such cliched terms. The figures however prove otherwise and to the keen cricket follower, it is obvious that Kallis is a clever bowler who makes the ball swing late or brings it in sharply.

He remains a batting all rounder but it must not be forgotten that he is the only South African to score a century and take five wickets in an innings twice in Test matches. Add to this his peerless slip catching and one has a picture of the complete cricketer.

Even after being around for so long Kallis retains the burning desire to play and perform. As I said, it is not easy being an all rounder these days because of the excessive amount of cricket being played. But there is little doubt that Kallis is enjoying his double role.

He is currently at the peak of his cricketing powers and his team members will be pleased to know that he will still be around for some more time. And by the time he leaves the scene Kallis will leave an all rounder's legacy that will be quite unsurpassable.

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