Posts Tagged ‘jacques kallis’


Goutham Chakravarthi

Greatness in sport is a strange thing. It has no cut out definition. But it can come from anywhere – from the streets of Karachi or the hills of Kandy. Nor is it predictable to a pattern.

As a kid growing up Javed Miandad was a man who I believed to be the all conquering god of batting. He had smashed Chetan Sharma for a six on the last ball to win a one-dayer for Pakistan and ever since, he was one player all budding Indian batsmen secretly admired and hated. I was no different. He was the epitome of a scrapper and street fighter. A cagey man and an astonishing batsman, he was a great batsman. Perhaps a shade less than Viv among his contemporaries. Viv imposed his pride and will on the game like no one since.

Kallis is the best all round cricketer since Sobers

Not always is greatness bestowed on a cricketer very early. It is not a mere test of ability, but of character, endurance, will and the know how to seize a moment. Champions are recognized for the long haul. Every champion has holes: more so with batsmen as they are measured often against one failure each time. Occasions such as world cups and tests against arch rivals often determine their fate. A Lara is remembered for his immortal unbeaten 153 against Australia in Barbados whereas a Gatting for getting out playing a reverse-sweep in a world cup final. Often, that is the lasting legacy of cricketers: what they do in the critical hour. Every one has a highest peak. For some the highest peak of failure outweighs their highest peak of success.

In that regard, some are not given the due they deserve. Like Rahul Dravid, Kallis doesn’t get his due. Like Dravid, Kallis never got the coverage he deserved when he got to 12,000 Test runs. It is a shame.

Make no mistake, he is a colossus. As a batsman alone he counts among the best five batsmen to have played the game in the last 20 years. As an all rounder, he is the best since Sobers.

Some keen observers point out that Kallis likes to look after himself: a clever way of saying that he plays for averages. Often he is criticized for that in the one-day games. The entire South African team ignored him at breakfast following the world cup defeat against Australia in 2007. His numbers are staggering in all formats and in all levels. His longevity and consistency are startling considering his work load as a bowler, a very skillful one at that in his pomp.

A man of strong basics, he has built his game on sound technique. Australians tried exposing holes in his drive, which, in turn was an examination of his mind and not of his game. Unnerved and solid, he has passed the test. As he has all around the world scoring runs on dry wickets and on the wet ones, against swing and seam, and against spinners on dust bowls. Not to mention seeing his team through in tough situations. Yes, there will be eternal argument in not seeing his teams through in world cups, but to pin the failures of a generation of South Africans on one man is preposterous.

I often believe the many struggles all cricketers go through are in the hope of achieving something substantial and special – as players and as a team. Long after they are done playing the game, it is moments of collective peaks that bring them a sense of satisfaction. And Kallis has often been at the center of many of the brightest moments of South Africa’s cricketing success. Perhaps he is comfortable now than before. He seems a lot more willing to impose himself on the opposition. He even lets out an occasional smile and shares a light moment with the opposition.

It is hard to imagine anyone as good as him who has got lesser recognition. He has won more games for South Africa than any other (most Man of the Match awards in Test history). Yet his calm is mistaken for insecurity and weakness. He knows his game and knows what it takes to succeed. If anything, his last few years have been better than ever before. Perhaps a lesser bowling load and a shift down the batting order have helped. Age and form will eventually catch up, but at current evidence, they seem many summers away.

When he is done playing the game, the game will remember him as among its very best.


John van der Westhuizen

Johannesburg

22 February 2011

The South African squad selection for the CWC 2011 was not without controversy. Albie Morkel, Mark Boucher and David Miller were just 3 of the notable omissions. That all 3 of them are considered valuable lower-order hitters has raised special concern though, with Johan Botha now poised to bat a position higher than I think any Proteas fan would like him to. AB de Villiers taking the gloves is in theory meant to free up a batting space, Albie Morkel as an all-rounder has leaked way too many runs off his bowling in the last 18 months, and David Miller did not do enough in the India series to warrant leaving any of the selected players out. It is what it is, as they say – and barring any injuries, SA will have to do without them.

To focus on the players that were indeed selected, is to notice almost immediately the number of tweakers in the line-up. With Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir as frontline spinners, and the part-time yet useful skills of Duminy and Faf du Plessis, it is clear that the selectors have already stepped out of their comfort zone. In the past SA has been reluctant to veer too far away from almost total reliance on their seam attack. Since 1992, this has resulted in ZERO World Cup trophies. It was Albert Einstein who said “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time round is the very definition of insanity”. This fresh approach to the make-up of the SA attack can, to the optimistic Proteas fan, make it seem like we are in for a fresh, as yet unachieved result. First Round? Done that (2003). Quarters? Done that (1996). Semis? Done that (1992, 1999, and 2007). I am of the opinion that if SA make the final and lose, the squad would have done the nation proud. They would have conquered a new frontier, taken us further than ever before. If SA lost in the final it would obviously take 12 months to get over the heartache before coming to so rational a conclusion out loud, but I am preparing the emotional hedge, getting my mental affairs in order, just in case I have to deal with so tragic a scenario.

Of the 3 specialist spinners in the squad, I would expect to see at least 2 of them employed in every game, along with the 2 part-timers. On wickets that have shown a tendency towards taking more turn than usual though, it would not surprise me to see 3 specialist spinners picked, with Steyn, Morkel and Kallis bowling seam-up for the variety. Imagine a South African seam bowler picked for the purposes of providing variety? What has this world come to? Peterson has shown good form getting 6 wickets in the 2 warm up games against India and Australia. Tahir too has been among the wickets. Botha has proven himself to be SA’s premier spinner in this format. While Tahir is more of a strike bowler, the other 2 are more than capable of doing a holding job. Of the part timers, Duminy would most likely try to keep an end tidy while du Plessis would be more attacking. The balance on paper is frighteningly good. Throw into the mix Tsotsobe (leading wicket taker in the SA/IND series, ranked 10 in the world), Morne Morkel (ranked No. 2 ODI bowler) and Steyn (ranked No.1 Test bowler, ranked No. 8 ODI bowler) and it becomes clear that this attack is not the worst ever to wear SA colours in a World Cup.

As far as the batters go, on current form Smith is the weak link in the top order. Amla and de Villiers are ranked 1 and 2 in the world. Their prolific form in the last 18 months has been well documented elsewhere and long may it continue. Duminy has averaged 61 in ODI’s in since Jan 2010. And then we have Kallis. Someone who should know a bit about cricket, a certain Kevin Pietersen, recently described Kallis as “the greatest player ever”. For the purposes of this insert, I’ll take that as a valid remark. I will mention though, that in his last 20 ODIs, JK averages 52.5 – so he does have a vague idea how to hold a bat.

Now for the ‘weak link’: Apart from Faf du Plessis, SA appears to have no recognised finishers or big hitters for the latter stages of the innings. If the opposition get 5 wickets, the SA batting line-up appears to offer very little in the way of players capable of scoring 10-12 runs an over in the last 5-10 overs. The SA tail is exposed a little earlier than would normally have been the case in past world cups, with players like Klusener and Pollock coming in at 8 and 9 and making the closing overs count. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but as good as the trundlers mentioned earlier are at their chosen craft, they have yet to scare international teams with bat in hand.

The approach will most likely be one of seeing off the new ball, while making at least 50 in the first 10 overs, and then setting the stall for the accumulators to do their thing. Duminy and du Plessis should be able to add good runs more often than not at the end, but wickets will need to be preserved. I would imagine that at any given stage, 1 of the 2 batsmen at the crease will be tasked with batting through.

That’s the theory, all wrapped up. The skills are there, the support is there. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s just get the squad to stick to a liquid diet in the play-offs, avoid solids completely – and please, pretty please: I hope they’ve all had training in basic first aid. Knowing the Heimlich Manoeuvre could come in handy.


Goutham Chakravarthi

13 February 2011

Bangalore

World cup brings with it many things. Inevitably each edition plays host one last time to a group of great cricketers performing on cricket’s biggest stage in the hope of going out on a high. Expectations, invariably, sky-rocket from loyal supporters. Heroes are made of performing stars and winning teams are immortalized. Inglorious exits are met with wrath and burning effigies. Heads roll and scars linger till the next significant victory is achieved. Only a blessed few get to go out as world champs. Others walk into sunset alone and hurt.

When a player should retire is his own business. Image: Deccan Chronicle

It is a strange thing this retirement. Young men in the prime of their life otherwise are asked to leave just because a younger and stronger cricketer promises to deliver. A performer of grandeur, excellence and one of mass adulation and worship is replaced with the tone of a has-been. A retiring rock star on the other hand perhaps goes on a world tour for a couple of months one last time. Yes, Test retirements sometimes are on that scale (Steve Waugh, anyone?), but how many of the great theatre artists or pop-singers are asked to terminate their profession abruptly?

Still world cups are different. Passions reach fever pitch and average ex-cricketers find the temerity to question colossal giants. Media fuel exits with the same exaggerated care they would a triumph with inane debates and over-the-top obituaries. Fans and media move on with the next game and the next victory but a great career is ended.

Cricket, with its changing fortunes and the many twists and turns, the highs and the lows, heart burns and unbridled joy – often in the same match – is rightly compared to life and its vicissitudes. Retirement is anything but life like. A routine retirement is an occasion where friends and family collate to celebrate the career. Contributions are acknowledged by grateful peers and bosses. In cricket, retirement is often demanded following a high profile exit. Whilst selection is merit oriented and at the discretion of the cricket board, retirement is the individual’s choice. Often, cricketers are pushed into it. Some give in and some retire only to be back very soon after. And some others retire in installments. Whatever the means, it is best left unto the individual.

As with this world cup, this will be the last time truly modern day giants like Tendulkar, Kallis, Muralitharan, Ponting, Jayawardene, Chanderpaul will play in a world cup. All of them would want to go out as world beaters and nothing less. As it might turn out, none of them might be around when it is the finals time on April 2nd. It would hardly count as failure as it is players like them who make cricket invigorating and such a pleasure that you and I worship every minute of it. Their biggest contribution is in leaving the game having inspired millions of others to take to it.

As the world cup gears itself perhaps for its own future in a few days’ time, these great set of players will put on their best performances in the hope of scaling the summit one last time. Cricket will go on with or without them as it should and invariably will. Some won’t get picked after this world cup and selectors and captains are entitled to their judgment. But retirement should be left unto the players themselves. May be, some might announce it a year later from their last competitive game like Sampras did. May be, some won’t. In either case, it is none of our business.