For years, the South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis has been compiling stats that would be the envy of some of the greatest batsmen who ever strode to the crease. As of today, he has scored nearly 12,000 runs in 145 Test matches at an average of 57.43, which gives him the eleventh highest average ever. In addition, he has compiled just over 11,000 runs in 311 one-day internationals (ODI) at an average of 45.45, the twelfth highest average ever. He’s even become a master of the slash-and-crash T20 form of the game, averaging over 34 runs per inning.
His runmaking capacity is, however, only half the story, because Kallis has taken 270 Test wickets at 32.01 and 262 ODI wickets at 31.91—figures that put him right alongside Gary Sobers as the greatest all-rounder ever. No one, not even Sobers, has compiled more runs, at a higher average, or taken more wickets, at a lower average, than Kallis.
Why then are the cricketing hills not alive with the sound of people singing Jacques Kallis’ praises? I have no idea. True, he’s not scored big hundreds (he only has one double-hundred to his name), but he’s still the second highest century-maker in Test cricket. I fancy that one reason for this oversight may be that, for all his incredible strengths—unlike Virender Sehwag, who’s an explosive strokemaker when he comes out to bat, or Sachin Tendulkar, who’s a beloved figure off the field—Kallis is neither charismatic nor particularly glamorous. He accumulates runs and takes wickets, with the kind of no-nonsense, attritional skill that is profoundly effective, but not particularly exciting. In other words, poor Jacques Kallis doesn’t sell his skills. He is simply, calmly, but somewhat anonymously, superb.
Like all sports, cricket is fundamentally about entertainment, and therefore flamboyance and showmanship count for something, even though both may be extrinsic to actual excellence in the game. Kallis recently got a hair transplant, so that a thick rug of hair bounces up to bowl along with his husky, workmanlike frame. It’s unlikely to change the public’s perception of him. But, perhaps, now that he’s in the final stages of a stellar career, he’ll cut loose and express himself on the field, as well as on the top of his head. He certainly deserves it.