Ask any cricket lover over the age of 40 who the best all rounder of all time is and the chances are the name Sir Garfield Sobers will purse from their lips, quickly followed by the words ‘definitely’ or ‘no question about it’.
Don’t get me wrong, Sir Garfield Sobers certainly was worthy of greatness. During a 20 year, 93 match test career batting mostly at six he scored 8032 runs at an average of 57.78 in 160 innings, including 30 fifties and 26 hundreds and took 235 wickets at 34.03 with the extraordinary economy rate of 2.22 runs per over in just under 3600 overs. As a batsmen he was supremely graceful, possessing all the shots and ruthlessly punishing anything loose, especially through the offside. With ball in hand he bowled an incredibly versatile left arm mix of seam up, orthodox and wrist spin, all with equal aplomb. Throw in his brilliant fielding, 109 catches close in and the fact that he once held the world record highest test batting score of 365 not out and it is easy to see why Wisden included him as one of their 5 Cricketers of the Century.
However if the true test of an all rounder is their ability to get into the test team purely as both a batsman and a bowler then I believe another candidate should be given serious consideration. I give you Jacques Kallis.
Compared to Sobers, on statistics alone, Kallis stands toe to toe with him. To date in a career that has spanned 15 years and 140 tests Kallis has scored 11126 runs at an average of 55.07 batting largely at three. In that time he has also scored an incredible 53 fifties and 35 hundreds. As predominantly a first change bowler he has snared 266 victims at an average of 31.59 and has scooped up 159 catches, mostly at slip. Given that he has faced some of the games greatest bowlers in Ambrose, Walsh, McGrath, Warne, Akram, Younis and Muralitharan and dismissed such legends as Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting, Hayden, Inzamam and Pietersen, then there is no question in my mind that Kallis deserves to be categorised in the same bracket as Sobers. Especially when you consider the sheer volume of cricket Jacques Kallis has to play. In twenty years Sobers played less than 4.5 test matches a year on average. Kallis by contrast, in five years fewer, plays twice as many. And that doesn’t take into account all the ODIs and 20/20s that are now on the schedule and the energy sapping traveling that such a schedule demands.
Given his career statistics you have to feel sorry for Jacques Kallis because despite his wonderful record he hardly gets a mention at all in any discussion of the game’s greatest all rounder. Perhaps this might change when he retires because players always seem to become better once they hung up their boots. But whilst he is still playing you have to ask why Jacques Kallis doesn’t get really get the superstar status his performances truly deserve? The answer I believe is simply one of charisma, or more specifically his lack of it.
Lets face it Jacques Kallis is hardly the life and soul of the party. Infact compared to Sobers, Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Andy Flintoff and even Richard Hadlee he comes across lets face it as a pretty lugubrious short of chap. But there again they do say that actions speak louder than words. And Jacques Kallis, through his consistently impressive performances alone, certainly does that.
If records are made to be broken then opinions are formed to be changed. So if Sir Garfield Sobers is still currently recognised as the best all rounder in the entire history of the game then maybe one day Jacques Kallis will be too. I for one certainly wouldn’t begrudge him should this ever be the case.