Cricket: England v South Africa

Performance of The Day: Jacques Kallis

The South African allrounder has his critics, but he is a more complex cricketer than many people assume

Performance of The Day: Jacques Kallis

Jacques Kallis is not everyone’s favourite cricketer and it’s safe to say that he commands more affection from South African fans, than from the cricket fans of other nations.

But there is no question about his greatness as a cricketer and his statistics are comparable to the legendary allrounder Garry Sobers with both bat and ball.

One of the few weak points of a remarkable career has been a moderate record in England. Before this huge innings of 182 not out in 326 balls at The Oval, Kallis had only made one hundred in this country, back in 1998 at Old Trafford. It was a curious anomaly on the CV of such a technically gifted player who might be expected to cope well with the moving ball in English conditions.

There was no moving ball on display at The Oval, where England’s bowlers were neutered by a benign pitch and a bal that failed to cooperate with their wishes. But Kallis still managed to rectify his record in England with a second hundred on English soil.

The accusation levelled at Kallis is that he is a selfish player who bats at one pace in Test matches, sacrificing his team’s best interests to the altar of his immensely high batting average (57).

The journalist Michael Henderson, writing in The Independent on Saturday, subscribed to this view: “In his attritional batting and his defensive bowling he has spent his career with the brakes on and has often given the impression, with a bat in his hand, that his needs are at least as great as the team’s.”

Kallis did little in the early part of the day to dispel Henderson’s argument. He hit 10 runs in his first 56 balls of the day, which was pedestrian. There’s no doubt Kallis was coveting a hundred.

But nearly all cricketers relish their stats more than they would admit. And the next part of Kallis’s innings showed that he is far from the one-dimensional, selfish automaton Henderson describes.

After reaching his hundred, Kallis accelerated quickly in the interests of his team. There would have been no excuse to stay in his shell, with England’s bowlers tiring and Broad, in particular, well short of his top speeds.

Kalis capitalised on Broad’s floaty medium-pacers, three times striking half volleys to the cover fence in one over. Emboldened, he slog-swept Swann for the first six of the innings, then stepped down the wicket and smashed Bresnan over mid wicket.

His last 83 runs came in 99 balls, which helped South Africa accelerate in the afternoon session and declare at tea.  

Henderson’s judgment is probably based on an aesthetic dislike of Kallis’s style rather than any rational criticism of his value to his team, or greatness as a cricketer. And, it’s true that there is a curious lack of expressiveness to the man even as he takes an attack apart. His facial expression when he dead bats or hits a six rarely changes.

But at the age of 36, Kallis is the best and most consistent batsman in world cricket. Since the start of 2010, he has averaged 80.07, the highest by some margin. In 20 Test matches, he has added 11 hundreds to reach a tally of 43 hundreds.

It seemed unimaginable that a batsman could catch Sachin Tendulkar’s record of hundreds in Test matches. But Tendulkar is 39, with fading powers, and 51 tons to his name.

Kallis now has 43 hundreds and is three years younger than Tendulkar. If he maintains his present form, he could catch the little maestro and end all arguments about his greatness.

Kallis’s bowling, however, has declined. Although he has performed well in this game, since 2010 his wickets have cost 46 apiece. Here is one of many parallels with Sobers. Both men were great allrounders, but vastly superior batsmen.

If Sobers had far greater charm than Kallis, we must not forget that cricket is a blood sport, as much as an aesthetic spectacle. And Kallis’s expressionless demeanour conceals a fierce competitive instinct. When he reached his hundred, he pointed to his eye, a clear reference to his great friend Mark Boucher and indication of his pride in the South African team.