Greats: only ever one of a kind

2007-12-08 00:00

WHEREVER followers of South African cricket are gathered together, mere mention of his name prompts awe and admiration. “There was only one Graeme Pollock,” they tell each other fondly, “and we will never see his like again.”

Glorious memories flood their minds: the Wanderers full, a teeming bullring of planks on scaffolding; the buzz of anticipation at the fall of the second wicket; the bellowing roar as the tall, angular figure strides to the middle and the board bearing the word ‘Maestro’ is slotted into the old scoreboard.

The stance is imperiously wide; the ball is fractionally short of a length; the backswing is simple and straight; willow bat strikes through leather ball with Rolex timing, and powers it to the extra cover boundary as majestically as Jupiter ever dispatched a bolt of lightning.

Pure pleasure ripples through the crowd, and the great man rocks on his heels, leans on his bat for a moment, glances from side to side and prepares for the next delivery.

In cricket, such romantic images of greatness are nailed down by six-inch bolts of cast iron statistics. R.G. Pollock, as any self-respecting schoolboy of the 1970s will recall, played 23 Test matches between 1963 and 1970, playing 41 innings and striking 2 256 runs, including seven 50s and 11 centuries with a highest score 274 and a Test average of 60.97, for so long second only to Bradman.

Thirty years on, and another generation is occupying the grease. The team may be named after a flower rather than a leaping gazelle, but they still wear green and gold, and still give as good as they get on the endless treadmill that international cricket has become.

However, as they watch from the boundary, keeping up with the latest Test series, ODI or T20, the SA cricketing public somehow struggles to acknowledge, appreciate and applaud the same brand of greatness that seems so crystal clear, so utterly beyond debate at a distance of three decades.

‘They only put flowers on your grave,’ runs the old sporting refrain, and maybe it is true that a blend of over-familiarity and over-exposure can sour contemporary judgement.

So let us step back for a moment and consider the plain statistical record of Jacques Henry Kallis, now aged 32 years and 53 days and currently thriving in his 13th consecutive season as South Africa’s peerless number three batsman and occasionally devastating fast-medium bowler.

The man has played in 111 Test matches, scoring 9 197 runs at an average of 58.2, ranking him a remarkable 11th in the all-time, no arguments definitive list of Test batsmen, tucked in behind Bradman, Hussey, Pollock, Headley, Sutcliffe, Ponting, Paynter, Barrington, Weekes and Hammond, and ahead of giants such as Hobbs, Tendulkar, Chappell, Lara, Waugh and Richards.

He has scored 29 Test centuries, as many as Bradman, including five in his last four matches; and, in all the long worldwide history of the flannelled game, only one man has managed to score more than 8 000 runs, take more than 200 wickets and hold more than 100 catches in both Test and ODI cricket, and his name is not Sobers or Botham – it’s Kallis, and he is a South African.

“Jah, but,” a crinkled collection of contemporary carpers have sometimes muttered in the Members’ Stand, “he has never pushed on to score a Test double century and taken the game away from the opposition, like Pollock or Richards used to do, and he’s not really flamboyant.”

Such nit-picking has been all but washed away by wave upon wave of relentless runs, as this modest, decent hero quietly sets about his business and thrives, year after year.

Rested from the frenetic hurly-burly of international T20 action, Kallis will return for the imminent Test series against the West Indies and doubtless add to his legend.

Then, perhaps three decades from now, wherever followers of SA cricket are gathered together, mere mention of his name will prompt awe and admiration, and all present will recall images of impeccably timed square drives sent speeding to the boundaries of the world.

“There was only one Jacques Kallis,” they will say. “We will never see his like again.”

More of us could be saying it now.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SABC sport and involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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