Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kallis v Sobers?

As the Test series between South Africa and England continues, comparisons have been drawn between the home team’s all-rounder Jacques Kallis and arguably the greatest-ever in that field – Sir Garfield Sobers. As Kallis moves towards the end of his career, what do the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings say about him and how he compares to the West Indian legend? As Sobers only played one ODI (and was dismissed for a duck in that match) we’ll just look at their Test careers to begin with, although we will examine Kallis’s career in the shorter format of the game at the end of the article.

Kallis: Highest Rating: 935 (2007). Highest Ranking: 1st (40 matches). Average: 715
Sobers: Highest Rating: 938 (1967). Highest Ranking: 1st (189 matches). Average: 781

At first glance, they appear to have had similar peaks with both among the top ten batsmen in the history of the game in terms of points. While Kallis spent 40 matches and 281 days on top of the batting tree, Sobers truly dominated the 1960s spending a total of 189 matches as the number one batsman – more than anyone else in the history of the game. His nearest challengers in that respect are both fellow countrymen – Viv Richards (179) and Brian Lara (140).

Kallis: Highest Rating: 742 (2003). Highest Ranking: 6th (2002). Average: 529
Sobers: Highest Rating: 715 (1966). Highest Ranking: 4th (1964). Average: 483

Similar returns for the two all-rounders here. While both would probably freely admit that batting was their stronger suit, both were good enough bowlers to reach the higher echelons of the bowling tree too. At Kallis’s peak he was part of a strong South African pace-bowling attack that featured Shaun Pollock in second place and Makhaya Ntini just starting to dominate in seventeenth. Sobers made a slow start to his bowling career in which he only took 45 wickets in his first 35 Tests. However, he made the breakthrough in the famous 1960/61 series in Australia and never dipped below 600 points in his last 49 Tests – spread over eleven years, peaking at number four.

Kallis: Highest Rating: 616 (2002). Highest Ranking: 1st (370 matches). Average: 404
Sobers: Highest Rating: 669 (1966). Highest Ranking: 1st (213 matches). Average: 400

Sobers’ peak Rating of 669 is the highest ever achieved by an all-rounder in either format of the game. At that stage of his career he had a batting rating of 936 – top by nearly a hundred points from Bill Lawry – and also stood eighth in the bowling ratings with 715 points – trailing the leader Lance Gibbs. Kallis has topped the Test all-rounder table for more matches than anyone else and achieved his peak points when he had a batting rating of 848 placing second behind Matthew Hayden and a bowling rating of 726 – good enough for seventh place behind leader Glenn McGrath. Ian Botham is the only other all-rounder to break the 600 point barrier in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test all-rounders which illustrates how great these two players are. It is truly remarkable that their average numbers of points are so similar given that Sobers played 93 Tests and Kallis has so far played 131.

Coupled with these figures, it should not be forgotten that they were fielders of some brilliance too. Sobers retired with 109 Test catches and Kallis is so far up to 148 – ninth best all-time. Sobers also captained his country on 39 occasions, ending with a surprisingly disappointing record of 9 wins, 10 defeats and 20 draws. Kallis has only been called upon to captain South Africa twice – a defeat to Australia by 2 wickets in 2006 and an innings victory over the same opposition in 2009.

The One Day International game came too late for Sobers who only took the field once for the West Indies – against England at Headingley in 1973. He didn’t distinguish himself either – being dismissed by Chris Old for a duck and taking 1-31 and conceding the winning run as England sneaked home by 1 wicket in the final over. However, it has been a different story with Kallis. A veteran of 295 ODIs – the best part of 10 months-worth – he spent 58 matches in the number one position in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI batsmen in 2004 and 2005. He was less successful with the ball – peaking at 15th position in early 2001. However, his combined threat meant that he has spent a total of 432 matches as the top-rated ODI all-rounder in the world, more than anyone else apart from Kapil Dev. So he can truly be considered a great in that format of the game too.

So why is it that Sobers is often looked upon as the finer player when these two are compared? The West Indian shades the Test batting stakes average-wise, but Kallis edges the bowling by a similar margin. And then there is the South African’s ODI career too. Could it be that Sobers was considered a more swashbuckling batsman? He had a Test batting strike rate of 52.5 runs per hundred balls faced, whereas Kallis is down at 44.2, meaning that an average Sobers century would take some 36 deliveries fewer than one by Kallis. There were those six sixes in an over too which added to the Sobers legend!

Perhaps Kallis suffers from being a right-arm seamer in an era when South Africa were blessed by many of that kind. Donald, Pollock, Steyn, Ntini and Nel all spent considerable time in the world’s top ten, while Sobers could alter his mode of attack depending on the match and pitch conditions.

2571 men have now played Test cricket. Who is anyone to argue that these two are among the greatest to play the game? You could toss a coin to determine who was the greater, but it would be a tough man to decide between the two.