The enigma called Jacques Kallis
January 6, 2006
A few more strokes like this one, and Jacques Kallis will be a much more feared batsman for the opposition © Getty Images
He has played almost 100 Tests, averages nearly 57, has scored runs against allcomers in all conditions, and was recently named the ICC's Player of the Year, but Jacques Kallis has hardly got the kind of acclaim you'd expect a batsman to receive after all these achievements. Since 1999, the lowest he has averaged in a calendar year is 48.75, and in these seven years only twice has his annual average slipped below 50, yet more attention has been targetted at what he hasn't achieved than what he has. His batting has been described as soulless, lacking in intent, and selfish - the latest example being his unbeaten 14 off 47 balls on the fourth day against Australia, when quick runs were the need of the hour. Unjustified criticism, or just comments made against a player who bats for himself more than for his team? The Numbers Game looks at two aspects of Kallis's record which have drawn flak, and checks out what the stats have to say about them.
A fair-weather player?
In eight Tests against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, Kallis has scored 893 runs and has been dismissed just four times, giving him an incredible average of 223.25. In 14 Tests against Australia (before the current Sydney Test), on the other hand, Kallis's returns were a far more modest 800 runs at 33.33 before the last Test of the 2005-06 series against Australia at Sydney. Against Pakistan, another side with a strong bowling attack, he has only managed 38 runs per innings in eight matches. Against Muttiah Muralitharan's Sri Lanka, the average is a dismal 33.63.
While these are damning numbers, they don't necessarily tell the entire story. In the first half of his career, Kallis did struggle against the top teams, as the table below shows. In the second half of his career, though, he has consistently proved that he can score runs off the best bowlers - he has scored hundreds in each of his last two series against Australia, and he averaged 68 against an excellent England attack in 2004-05.
Kallis - till April 2, 2001, and after Versus Before Apr '01-Tests/ runs Average After Apr '01-Tests/ runs Average
Australia 6/ 256 23.27 9/ 705 50.36
England 12/ 599 39.93 8/ 183 54.20
India 2/ 136 68.00 4/ 443 88.60
New Zealand 6/ 463 66.14 3/ 354 70.80
Pakistan 4/ 220 66.14 4/ 236 39.33
Sri Lanka 8/ 347 26.69 4/ 292 48.67
West Indies 8/ 649 49.92 10/ 1207 109.73
Zimbabwe 2/ 179 89.50 4/ 500 250.00
Bangladesh - - 2/ 214 -
Self before team?
It's an allegation that has much more merit, but one that is tougher to either prove or disprove through numbers alone. It's difficult to look at the scorecards and say, for instance, if an 83 off 165 balls was just the innings for the occasion, or if it spoilt the team's chances of gunning for victory. For people who have watched him over the years, though, his approach has often been baffling: despite having almost every stroke at his command - to go with a watertight defensive technique - Kallis seldom dominates bowling attacks the way he should. The innings at Sydney was only the latest example of how he seems to bat in a bubble, oblivious to the team cause - less than a couple of months earlier, Kallis plodded his way to 91 off 146 balls in an ODI against India at Mumbai, as South Africa only managed 221 and ended up losing the match.
The stat that best illustrates Kallis's tendency to cruise in second or third gear instead of imposing himself on the game - something that all great batsmen tend to do - is his scoring rate in innings when he gets to hundreds. In his 23 Test centuries, he has only scored at 48 runs per 100 balls, nowhere near the rates of Sachin Tendulkar (59.5), Inzamam-ul-Haq (61.5), Ricky Ponting (63) or Brian Lara (70). Among today's top players, Kallis's rate is closest to Rahul Dravid's (49.75), but in a line-up filled with extravagant strokeplayers, Dravid plays a specific, and much-needed, anchoring role. In a South African line-up loaded with grafters, Kallis, as the best batsman of the side, has often failed to impose himself - and thus his team - upon the opposition. Here's another damning stat: in the 15 centuries he has scored since September 2001, even after he's got a hundred against his name, Kallis only cruises along at a scoring rate of 57.54, that's less than the career strike rates of Ponting and Lara.
The theory of Kallis being concerned only with his average gains further credence due to the high number of not-outs in his career stats, especially in the second innings. He has remained unbeaten 21 times in 65 second innings; only two batsmen - Allan Border (31 not-outs in 111 second innings) and Graham Thorpe (24 out of 86) - have a higher number among middle-order batsmen (No.3 to No.6), while Steve Waugh has the same number (21 out of 94), but all three have a lower not-out percentage than Kallis, whose tally of 2277 runs in not-out innings is next only to Border's 2989 and Waugh's 3337. And if you look at second-innings not-outs only, another batsman who was accused of putting self before team - Geoffrey Boycott - comes in at second place, a slot above Kallis.
Most runs in not-outs Not-out innings Runs
Steve Waugh 46 3337
Allan Border 44 2989
Jacques Kallis 28 2227
Sachin Tendulkar 21 1957
Garry Sobers 21 1908
Most runs in 2nd innings not-outs Not-outs in 2nd innings Runs
Allan Border 31 1842
Jacques Kallis 21 1310
Geoff Boycott 20 1270
Graham Thorpe 23 1188
David Gower 15 1087
But just as the Kallis baiters will point to Boycott to prove their point, there's another name a further down in the list who could never be accused of playing for his average - David Gower ended up with 1087 from 15 unbeaten knocks.
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A very interesting article.