Cricket is a complex game. It throws up a flurry of records compiled often under the most unexpected circumstances and drafted by players who are deemed least likely to succeed. Furthermore, it opens your ever wanting horizons to an envelope of paradox, that turns up meteoric highs and tumultuous lows. If it’s not easy being a top level international cricketer, it certainly ain’t easy being a fan. Long after a legendary batsman rests his bat against the wall, one hardened by testing battles and long after a bowler refuses to shine the cherry with his sweat, the fan does all the hard-work to bookmark in his ‘memory book’- moments that brought him great joys.
Fans come to support their icons, as they have in large numbers in the last four decades, breaking through rigorous turnstiles and letting go of several problems to root for their heroes. There is this special convergence between fans and their idols that ultimately lifts the game.
The last four decades in Cricket’s often volatile but largely record breaking stint have easily been the most productive ones as far as it’s history is concerned. The cricket turf having produced some breathtaking batsmen and overpowering bowlers has never been so fertile. From Eknath Solkar to Javed Miandad, Imran Khan to Clive Lloyd, Sachin Tendulkar to Sir Viv Richards, Peter Kirsten to VVS Laxman, Martin Crowe to Shaun Pollock and from Sunny Gavaskar to Shane Warne, this truly has been a magnificent era stoked by greats who occupy cricket’s grand stand so to speak.
Jack Kallis: more than a Wall, taller than a Mountain
But, while this incongruous list of talents with dissimilarities and sublime achievements in the game can be endless, it cannot be rendered complete without the mention of in-arguably the finest and most durable all rounders the game has produced ever since Sir Garfield Sobers stepped outside the cricket pitch. A modern day icon of the sport , he has protected the game’s image with courage and some astonishing achievements that are hard to match and may just never be as far as mental facets like concentration and ability to overturn a crisis situation are concerned. The man is also one of the few cricketers who is cherished for his service to his side and the game rather than playing for his own glory.
Muscular, blonde-haired, broad shouldered, with penetrating eyes and mounting severe challenges over those who attempted to breach past South Africa’s defense- Jack Henry Kallis will always be remembered for his on pitch heroics and not the crazed histrionics that have made love to his king-like aura. South Africa’s most superior test batsman and the finest all round cricketer in both versions of the game, Kallis finished his 18 year long career back in 2013 and there isn’t a day in the last 3 years that he has not been remembered.
Respected by past legends and contemporaries
One is sure to feel in assuming that even the finest batsmen on their day having lost their wicket cheaply would at least once refer to the fictional but fact based ” Jack Kallis book of cricketing greatness” to understand how they could have saved their wicket. Furthermore, world’s best bowlers, visibly superior in pace to Jack’s may often be wondering how Kallis would have dealt with a tricky batsman in front whilst their plans were decoded and reduced to binary digits conveying fours and sixes. A man known for his patience and regard for facing adversities with a calm mind, it is no surprise that Kallis finished his career at a better average than that of his contemporaries. Those who played alongside him like Dale Steyn, Greame Smith and even A.B. De Villiers have tirelessly showered heaps of praise for Jack’s stellar career. Opponents, like Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Mahela Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya have lauded Kallis for reigning supreme across all formats of the game. It is heartening to note that past stars and evergreen heroes like Sir Gavaskar and Clive Lloyd have hailed Jack Kallis as the better test batsman of his time as stacking up against his contemporaries and, perhaps the finest as far as batting technique and his powers of concentration were concerned. Only Dravid known as the Wall for his ability to elongate his focus for hours and hours when the chips were down stands tall alongside the South African right hander.
How Kallis stacks up against the greats
Cricket will continue to produce awe inspiring heroes and fans will never get enough of the masters. You take a second’s pause and understand the elements that constitute a great and you will find it isn’t so much about numbers as it is about the conditions that enabled one to compile those numbers that mark a player for greatness.
Those late nineties and early 2000s were phenomenal for 6 of cricket’s greatest batsmen including God-like Tendulkar, Dravid, Lara, Sanga and Ponting contested in epic battles worldover alongside a certain Jack Kallis.
How many batsmen of Jack’s era, Brian Lara (West Indies), Ricky Ponting(Australia), Rahul Dravid and most noticeably, Sachin Tendulkar (both India) have managed a test batting average of over 55? Sachin, arguably the greatest batsman of his era comes behind at a stellar average of 53. Only Lankan Kumar Sangakkara has leapfrogged ahead of Jack averaging a monumental 57 in test cricket from 233 innings with 11 double hundreds, 3 more than Prince Lara and 1 shy of the Don. But his 38 test tons that are 4 more than Brian’s and 2 more than The Wall Dravid’s fall 7 shy of Jack Kallis’ 45 test tons. While Jack Kallis didn’t score a triple ton, which Lara did once in addition to scoring cricket’s only quadruple test hundred, his sword-like blade’s firepower that delivered bludgeoning defenses on the most bouncy and turning pitches and stroked fiercest blows all round the park perfectly completed Lara’s swagger and charming aura that emanated from that high backlift and shuffling around the pitch with exuberance.
Brian Lara and Sanga are famously known to have said that they would want Jack to bat for their lives if they happen to be in some crisis. It is both intriguing and bewildering to note that how painfully close did Sri Lankan icon Kumar Sangakkara came to squish past the Protean great.
What makes Kallis one of the game’s greatest?
Way back in 1995, a tired English team toured South Africa. In the test series that hung on equal balance the third test was played at Kingsmead at Durban. Coming into bat at no.6 was a young blonde looking charmer. Armed with a twinkle in his eye he was to have impressed his critics in a star studded line up that featured greats like Kirsten, Pollock, Donald. Disappointingly for this youngster from Cape Town, his first encounter in cricket lasted for only 12 balls. He was caught behind for just 1. It’s quite perplexing to note that on the same ground where he played his first ever knock for his beloved South Africa, he came to play his last ever innings, at Durban. This time it was 2013. The opponents were an ever competitive India and the man they came to tackle was a seasoned campaigner about to walk into his sunset. But, by the time his knock was over, the scorecard read- Jack Kallis 115.
His last test century saved not just South Africa but gave a legion of fans who had come from all over to support their favorite Hulk like batsman. His retirement has marked end of an era where test cricket produced batsman of a rear breed. Solemnly pledging to devote their lives to the cause of their nations and digging in deep when the chips are down, the successes of some of these legends, including Rahul Dravid, Mike Hussey, Kumar Sangakkara and Jack Kallis have provided enthralling entertainment to fans who came to witness in cricket a test of nerves and domination of commitment over irrationality.
The legacy of Kallis
There are batsmen, who have sheepishly drawn games in their sides’ favor against all odds. Then, there are some who remain in the middle of the action, even when a game is over, to enjoy the limelight and all the plush plusses that success in an inning grants you. Kallis, always the quiet masterful strokemaker was in a league of his own. Reticent to media glare and sordidly denying fan’ endless appreciation of their hero, Jack Kallis chose to focus only and purely on the game.
The burlesque built Kallis will forever be remembered for his all round exploits where a stack of 565 wickets from both versions of the game sans rapid pace but superior consistency conveyed a harmony to those nearly 25000 runs that signified the triumph of will power and brilliance over the opponents’ cunning plans. Batsmen there will be many but commanders of a team’s hope, there will be few. Bowlers there will be many but in front of the need for consistency they might bow. What makes a perfect, impregnable concrete structure of greatness takes a little bit more than records or passion. It is akin to a task of consuming a nectar of pungent chalice. If one will glance down history books of South African cricket, the fear will always be of running into one Jack Henry Kallis.