Had Jacques Kallis played all his career as a batsman alone, he will have had a place among the greatest in the game’s history. Consider the evidence. Only Sachin Tendulkar (15,921), Ricky Ponting (13,378), and Rahul Dravid (13,288) have more runs than Kallis’s 13,174 (not including his final Test in Durban). Only Tendulkar (51) has more centuries than Kallis’s 44. And except for Kumar Sangakkara (56.98), no one with more than 10,000 runs has a higher average than Kallis’s 55.12. It’s an excellent record in itself; seen together with 292 Test wickets, it’s truly staggering. A rough estimate of an all-rounder’s quality may be had by subtracting his bowling average from his batting average — the bigger the difference, the more impressive the record. By this metric, only Gary Sobers (23.75) compares with Kallis (22.59). The method favours batting all-rounders over bowling all-rounders; the corresponding figures for Imran Khan (14.88), Keith Miller (14), Ian Botham (5.14) and Kapil Dev (1.41) suggests as much. But it still gives a sense of how extraordinary Kallis is. He moreover is a rarity among all-rounders — a top-order batsman who could hit 90 mph, a speed only the fastest breach. For good measure, he also took 199 catches.
But not even his quite incredible numbers fully convey Kallis’s worth. From the time he made his first century, a match-saving, fourth-innings 101 against Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne at their best in Melbourne in 1997, he was South Africa’s anchor. The pressure of responsibility held Kallis’s creative forces in place. An attractive, classically correct player with the ability to play muscular strokes off either foot, he denied himself. The weight of having to succeed every time was not unlike what Sachin Tendulkar experienced, and it wasn’t until Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers made their mark collectively that Kallis allowed himself freedom. But there was little loss in solidity. Except for a slight vulnerability to the full, in-swinging ball late in his career, there were few chinks in his batsmanship. His bowling was versatile, and he could swing the new ball, drop his length and quicken his pace when it lost its shine, and deny runs if all else failed. He had a particularly nasty bouncer, especially early in his career, and a knack for dismissing big batsmen. He was reluctant to exert himself later in his career, but a contest-twisting spell was never beyond him. The most complete cricketer of his generation, he was the first name on any fantasy World XI squad-sheet. As his grateful teammates often said, having Kallis in the side was like playing with 12 men — no wonder South Africa ascended to the top of world cricket.