Kallis versus Sobers as cricket’s greatest all-rounder
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Last month it was Bradman or Tendulkar as the all-time great batsman. The flavour of the week now is who is the greatest all-rounder in Test history, Garry Sobers or Jacques Kallis?
I am against comparing players of different era. And when you are comparing all-rounders of different eras, how can we bypass George Giffen, Monty Noble, Jack Gregory, Keith Miller, Vinoo Mankad, Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee, Shaun Pollock, Andrew Flintoff…?
But the discussion becomes relevant in view of Kallis’s great form with the bat in the just-concluded Test series against India when he amassed 498 runs at 166.00. This is even a higher batting average than England’s prolific opener Alastair Cook’s of 127.66 in the recent Ashes series.
Kallis followed his unbeaten 201 in the Centurion Test with 10 and 17 at Durban and 161 and 109 not out in the final Test at Cape Town to become Player of the Series.
His unbeaten 109 was responsible for South Africa saving the Cape Town Test and drawing the engrossing series 1-all.
South Africans were on their knees at 5-98 and then 6-130 but a far from fit Kallis batted gallantly to take them to 341. In the process he became the second highest century maker in Test annals. It was his 40th Test hundred, overtaking Ricky Ponting. Now only Sachin Tendulkar with 51 Test centuries is ahead of him.
There is no doubt about the greatness of Kallis as a batsman. Having scored 11947 runs at 57.43 in 145 Tests he is the fifth highest run-getter in Test history after Tendulkar (14692 at 56.94 in 177), Ponting (12363 at 53.51 in 152), Rahul Dravid (12063 at 52.44 in 150) and Brian Lara (11953 at 52.88 in 131).
But is Kallis a great bowler? He has taken 270 wickets at 32.01 and is 28th on the list of top wicket-takers. Useful, yes; great, certainly not.
Great batting all-rounder? Perhaps yes. As the controversy revolves round who is the greater all-rounder — Sobers or Kallis, let’s compare their numbers:
In 93 Tests, left-handed superstar Sobers scored 8032 runs at 57.78 with 26 centuries (top-score 365 not out). He took 235 wickets at 34.03 with six 5 wickets per innings hauls (best 6-73) and 109 catches.
In 145 Tests, right-handed Kallis has scored 11947 runs at 57.43 with 40 centuries (top-score 201 not out). He has taken 270 wickets at 32.01 with five 5 wickets per innings hauls (best 6-54) and 166 catches.
Thus their batting and bowling averages are amazingly similar. As Kallis played 1.6 times more number of Tests compared with Sobers, their number of runs scored per Test and catches taken per Test are also almost identical. But Sobers took more wickets per Test (2.5) compared to Kallis (1.9).
However much I admire Kallis, I somehow cannot place him in the same class as Sobers, the supreme all-rounder.
Sir Garfield Sobers had style, fluency and charisma no cricketer had when batting, bowling and fielding. Don Bradman called him a five-in-one cricketer; batsman extraordinaire, versatile fielder and a three-in-one bowler — fast-medium, finger-spin and wrist-spin.
He was a genius who batted like a maestro and bowled his Chinaman (left-arm googly) to confuse most batsmen.
A match-winner, Sobers was indeed a freaky cricketer. Did you know that he was born with 12 fingers, six on each hand? In first-class cricket, he was the first to hit six sixes in a 6-ball over. This was for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan in 1968, Malcolm Nash being the victim.
Forget Sobers, I would place Miller, Mankad, Botham, Kapil and Imran above Kallis as an all-rounder. Just as Benaud, Davidson and Hadlee were bowling all-rounders, Kallis, like Wally Hammond, is a batting all-rounder.
But statistically the top three all-rounders are Sobers, Botham and Kallis.
Only four players have achieved the Test double of 5000 runs and 200 wickets, and four the Test triple of 2000 runs, 200 wickets and 100 catches. The common players in the two exclusive lists are Sobers, Botham and Kallis.
The four who achieved the Test double of 5000 runs and 200 wickets are Sobers 8032 runs and 235 wickets in 93 Tests, Botham 5200 and 383 in 102, Kapil Dev 5248 and 434 in 131 and Kallis 11947 and 270 in 145.
The four to do the Test triple of 2000 runs, 200 wickets and 100 catches are Sobers (8032 runs, 235 wickets and 109 catches), Botham (5200, 383 and 120), Shane Warne (3154, 708 and 125 in 145 Tests) and Kallis (11947, 270 and 166).
What, Warney in this elite group! Wonders will never cease.
Kersi is an author of 13 cricket books including The Waugh Twins, Cricket's Great All-rounders,Six Appeal and Nervous Nineties. He writes regularly for Inside Cricket and other publications. He has recently finished his new book on Cricket's Conflicts and Controversies, with a foreword by Greg Chappell.
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