There is a heated discussion about who are the greatest batsmen to have graced the beautiful game of cricket. After discussing about Sobers, Don, Viv and Barry Richards, Lara, SRT and many more, the discussion veers towards Kallis. Suddenly, you see a room filled with a few chuckles, shaking of heads and raised eyebrows. There is a general disbelief that someone could take the name of Kallis amongst all those great players.
Now, it isn't just journalists, or former players who debate all the time on King Kallis, but even us, the cricket fans get into a verbal fight, or a scrap while having a debate on Kallis. Kallis bats with a calmness only seen with a Buddhist monk in deep meditation, but for us cricket fans, it has always been a hot topic which can lead to vituperation with verbal abuses being thrown around by fans.
In this article, I would try my level best to look at Kallis without bias from both sides of the coin. Also with South Africa's upcoming tour of England coming up, I just thought of looking at why Kallis hasn't been a run machine, when he has played in England.
What makes Kallis an all time great cricketer?
Our man King Kallis isn't Chris Gayle to send the pulse racing with his violent and brutal batting which in turn, may force the doctors to use the defibrillator for a cardiac patient. Instead, he is a zen master, who has the meditation prowess to counter anything that is bowled at him on a cricket pitch. Let it be SS-N 26 Onyx missile bowled by Akthars and Lees of the world, McGrath's awkward bounce, big spinning leg-breaks, or doosras, you expect a rock solid defence from Kallis. It doesn't worry him whether he is playing with heat wave around, conditions which makes one think it is bone-deep-cold, or desert storm. Even if someone comes near him and whispers in his ear that the world is going to end, Kallis won't worry about it and instead will get ready to face the next ball.
In short, Kallis is a run machine. Each time he goes onto bat, I expect him to score a century as nothing seems to worry the big man. In that regard, he is a great man to have in a team, as he brings solidarity to any team that he would play for.
One can just have a look at his career record too. 12379 runs, batting average of 56.78, 42 hundreds and in addition to all those great stats as a batsman, he has taken 276 wickets! Now those stats in itself would make anyone think that Kallis has to be one of the greatest players of all time. If I look at those figures, it would feel like King Kallis has already scaled the highest peak, the Mt. Everest and there is nothing more to prove.
So, why do a few fans, experts and journalists don't rate him as highly as others do? Is there any valid reason for that, or is it just pure bias?
So let us look at Kallis's career from another perspective. The critics, on occasions including myself don't think he is as flexible as he should be with a bat in hand. There have been occasions, when one felt that Kallis could have changed gears and tried to be aggressive as a batsman, but he seems to be struck with just one gear. While driving a car with a gear system, the driver won't be struck with say second gear forever, but that is what Kallis sometimes does as a batsman.
Every-time I switch on the TV with the Saffers playing, Kallis would be on 90 and about to reach the three figure mark, but after a few days, I tend to forget his knock. It is perhaps due to the way he plays, or is there more to it? The fact is,there have been some instances, where I felt that Kallis could have been a lot more flexible as a batsman. The best example I can remember is Kallis's hundred at Centurion in 04/05.
Going into the last match at Centurion, England were ahead in the series as they had won two matches to South Africa's one. Unfortunately for the Saffers, most of that match was ruined by bad weather. With just over a day left and England being already 100 runs ahead, I for one, definitely expected South Africa to go hammer and tongs at England's bowling. Instead, I saw some bizarre tactics.
South Africa's batting led by Kallis just played at one pace. Yes Kallis got a hundred, but it was an innings that won't help a team much. Even after he made that hundred, Kallis took singles and played at a similar strike rate to how he played before he got the century. Eventually, he made 136, but it left South Africa with just 40 odd overs to knock off England. One wasn't surprised that Saffers couldn't win that crucial match. It isn't about whether South Africa could have bowled out England with more overs to bowl at, but it was a bit baffling to see a senior player like Kallis play such a knock. Even in One-day cricket and if you want to include the IPL, I sometimes have wondered whether Kallis could have been a bit more flexible as a batsman.
Having said that, it isn't like Kallis is like a robot who churns out centuries everyday, as he too has played some masterful knocks. Kallis's first hundred on a slightly up and down wicket at Melbourne in 97/98 was constructed with filigree precision. Until then, Kallis came across as a batsman who had the talent, but perhaps mentally not strong enough to succeed at the highest level, as he kept getting out to soft dismissals.
At Melbourne in the first innings, he was out to a soft dismissal as well. So, when he came onto bat in the second innings with South Africa finding themselves in a spot of bother, the young Kallis had an uphill task on his hands. He didn't just have to counter the metronomic McGrath and Warne's bagful of tricks, but also inner devils in his own mind. Kallis though, played like a 50 test veteran and helped the Saffers to reach the shores of safety with a match saving hundred.
At Durban in 04/05, Kallis notched up yet another superb hundred. England's bowlers led by Harmison and Freddie were hell bent on bouncing out the Saffer batsmen with pace and bounce. Kallis though, shepherd the tail beautifully and took South Africa to a strong position. In 2010/11, when India visited the Rainbow Nation, Kallis made a fine hundred at Capetown which made sure that South Africa won't lose the match. It does show that, it isn't like Kallis hasn't played knocks that have helped South Africa to comeback from the dead, or helped them to get into a strong position.
Here a question may arise as to where do I stand with regards to Kallis as a player? I will give my opinion after having a look at how Kallis may fare in the upcoming series in England.
Kallis in England
For a man of Kallis's calibre and predigree, a batting average of under 30 in England is very hard to fathom. Everyone would expect Kallis with a rock solid defence and a great temperament to do well in England, but surprisingly, it hasn't been the case. So what has gone wrong for Kallis in England?
Here, I would take into consideration the last series Kallis played in England which was in 08. Kallis came to England with a huge reputation, but could only amass 104 runs @14.85! It is a seriously low average for a batsman of his class.
So what was the tactic that England's bowlers employed so successfully against him? Led by the man, who swings the ball around trees Jimmy Anderson, the bowlers looked to bowl as full as they could and get him out LBW, or bowled with swing. Having been bought up on bouncier tracks, the technically well equipped Kallis has always been reluctant to come forward in England and that doesn't help.If I think about the best batsman I have seen in English conditions Dravid, I think of a player who played late and at every given opportunity looked to come forward.
In that series in England, Kallis was bowled three times, LBW twice and caught twice. Yes at Edgbaston, he was out in in somewhat unfortunate circumstances as he couldn't sight the ball, but I vividly remember Anderson getting him out with late swing LBW at Oval and cleaning him up at Leeds again by bowling very full.
From what I remember, during that time Kallis also employed the forward press technique. It is something that Kallis's mentor Fletcher just loves it. I don't know whether Fletch advised Kallis to employ that forward press, but Kallis did try it in that series. I have always rated Fletch as someone, who knows the game well, but he also seems to be rigid with some of his ideas and one of them is that forward press.
The forward press may work for average players, but why would a class player like Kallis depend on guesswork? I am not an expert, or I haven't played at higher levels of cricket, but if a batsman is thinking on the lines of where a certain bowler may bowl won't it be guesswork? Thankfully from South Africa's point of view, Kallis soon abandoned that forward press theory and again started to score tons of runs.
So can Kallis succeed this time around in England? Kallis is a proud man, of course has a rock solid defence, gargantuan stamina and concentration prowess of a Buddhist monk. Kallis may just need to make slight adjustments in his technique to succeed in England. Interestingly, Kallis was at his best in England in 98 as he averaged 42. During that time, he was still establishing himself as a batsman in the middle-order of South Africa, yet he did well! I can't recollect much about how England bowled to him, or how Kallis played in that series, but maybe he can watch a few videos from that series played out in England during the summer of 98.
Finally, as I promised, I would also give my opinion on Kallis. Is he an all time great time player? yes he is. If a batsman makes more than 12000 runs and 40 hundred @56.78 and in addition, is a good change bowler with 276 wickets to his name, then he has to be known as a great player. Now, in a hypothetical world, if I am picking the 10 greatest cricketers of all time would I pick him? I doubt so. In-spite of those outstanding figures, he still makes me wonder whether a player of Kallis's pedigree could have been more flexible as batsman. Mind you it is just a minor criticism of King Kallis!
Anyone is free to disagree with my opinion, but hey different people have different opinions otherwise, the World would be a boring place to live in!!