Forget the numbers, an article said.
But can we really forget these numbers? For a nation obsessed with statistics, Kallis’ numbers are impossible to ignore. They are just too compelling. To be honest though, this cricketer reaches far beyond numbers. His contribution to post Apartheid South African cricket is second to none.
166 test matches. 200 catches. 13288 runs. An average of over 55. 292 wickets. Numbers wise, Dravid+Zaheer= Kallis. This was astounding enough on its own. This was a cricket record that would possibly NEVER be broken. As long as we live.
And we’re not even getting to the ODIs, where he has very similar statistics- and he isn’t even finished there yet.
I remember watching a Kallis innings at the Wankhede way back in 2006. South Africa batted first and a friend of mine was watching his first live ODI match in Mumbai at the time. His wish was simple- I must watch a Kallis forward defensive stroke, just to hear the ball crunch of the middle of the bat into the ground.
Even back then, it was impossible to ignore Kallis’ build- he was built like an absolute ox, and he compelled the best of deliveries into brutal submission by defending ever so solidly. He scored 90-odd and struggled to accelerate towards the end of the innings. We were young enough to mock his ‘test batting style’, not knowing that his struggle came from already having bowled 30 overs in the series before this match. The demands of an all-rounder wasn’t known to us Indian fans, because we never really had an all-rounder since Kapil Dev. We didn’t know what value they brought to a team- because India was full of specialists back then. Even Yuvraj Singh didn’t bowl much.
But Kallis’ forward defensive strokes and his cover drive brought back memories of my own childhood. This was when I took cricket seriously as a game, and I was finding myself a batsman to model my style on. Every young batsman did that- and the common choices were Tendulkar, Lara, maybe Dravid or even a Jadeja. But I chose Jacques Kallis after already modeling my stance on Arvinda De Silva. Kallis seemed the obvious choice because even back in 1998, I hadn’t seen anybody defend as well as he did. And I prided myself in my ability to defend better than any other young batsmen- who only seemed intent on smashing the ball beyond boundaries Sharjah desert storm style. I chose Kallis because his walk around the pitch while batting was more of a prowl, an understated swagger that seemed to say that he owned his space and he wouldn’t leave it to anybody else. There was a very cool way about the way he even ran between the wickets, and the bat seemed so much smaller in his hands than it did in most Indian players’ hands. More than anything, it was his stride forward while playing on the front foot that attracted me to the art of batsmanship. I barely knew how to spell his name or pronounce it (I still don’t), but I knew how he carried himself at the crease. It was very similar to another batsman I idolized- Brian Lara, who I could never emulate because he was a left hander and I was not.
When Kallis closed in on Sachin’s 51 test centuries, a lot of Indians dismissed Kallis as an anti-Ponting. He wasn’t a showman or a pure batsman like the others were. He was too convoluted by his own all-around brilliance. Many feared saying the words, the possible truth, a damning fact that no Indian fan could ever accept- Kallis is the greatest modern day cricketer of an entire era. The era of Sachin Tendulkar, the batsman.
Take into consideration Kallis’ farewell test at Durban. A match-winning century, followed by a crucial series win for South Africa. A final Durban test, where not more than 1500 spectators witnessed him bowing out on a high. Free entrance on the final day of the test where India’s batting order fell apart. FREE entrance- Imagine the possibility at the Wankhede during Sachin’s 200th and final test. No ticket was sold for less than INR 2500 on the day. But here, Kallis was made to down a beer before the presentation after being paraded around an empty stadium on strong shoulders.
MS Dhoni said during the presentation that he hoped Kallis would now use the time to relax and spend time with his family. Only, Kallis doesn’t have a family- except a younger sister that he married off only last week. His mother died when he was 11, his father died 10 years ago, and Kallis broke up with his longtime girlfriend in June. Tendulkar’s wife and 2 children were present at the Wankhede, along with his childhood coach and mother- along with his brother and in-laws, apart from a few dozen other relatives. And another 25000 spectators. And various ex-players. There could possibly be not greater antithesis between two legends’ farewells. The difference in cultures was apparent now more than ever.
Yet, more than Ponting or Tendulkar, Kallis will be hailed as the most complete cricketer of his generation. Perhaps, of all time. Even in the ninja era of IPL and flat sub continental pitches, Kallis’ records will never be beaten. He didn’t even have the luxury of playing on flat Indian wickets at home like Tendulkar and Dravid did, and still managed to compile enough runs to break into the top 3 of all time. The number of wickets, at the same average as Zaheer Khan, only proved what an underrated bowler he has been for South Africa. The demands on his body have been tremendous, and it is a wonder that his body never broke down the way it did for relative flash in the pans like Flintoff and Watson.
Kallis will walk into the sunset knowing that he can possibly have an even greater farewell from the limited overs game. The South African one day squad is only coming into its own now, and he has a lot to offer if they have to overcome the chokers tag and win an ICC event.
There is a year to go for the 2015 World Cup, and the hook shot caught magnificently by Oram at the deep midwicket boundary in the 2011 World Cup will still haunt Kallis.
No more nightmares. He is daring to dream ahead.