CHRIS WATERS: Kallis has earned right to stand on same pantheon as Sobers

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IT is commonly held that the greatest cricketer of them all was Garfield St Aubrun Sobers.

The West Indian all-rounder had a Test match batting average of 57, a bowling average of 34 and took 93 catches in 109 games.

But hang on a minute.

Jacques Kallis, who will be looking to help South Africa secure the Second Test win at Headingley Carnegie next week that would see his team displace England as world No 1, has a 
Test match batting average of 57, a bowling average of 32 and 
has taken 183 catches in 153 games.

Statistics will never convey the full story but they do not half provoke some interesting debate.

So, what am I saying? That Kallis is better than Sobers? Not for one second.

Nor am I saying, however, that he is not better than his vaunted predecessor.

For the simple fact is, one can no more definitively compare sportsmen of different eras 
than one can contrast the respective merits of the sun and the moon.

It is a futile and ultimately fruitless exercise but what is fascinating is that whereas a good many people would not put Kallis in the same ballpark as Sobers, on whom the mantle of greatest cricketer appears to have settled as established fact, the figures show there is barely a cigarette paper between them.

Indeed, one could even argue in favour of Kallis, given that he has sustained his stats over 60 more games than Sobers, who, of course, may or may not have sustained, or even improved on, his own figures had he had the opportunity.

Strip away the statistics, however, and I would suggest there is a very simple reason why people do not always bracket them together.

It all comes down to charisma.

For whereas Sobers was not only a great cricketer but a charismatic one, a man with great presence and magnetic appeal, Kallis is, well, let’s face it, dull by comparison.

The 36-year-old is never going to win any popularity contests because he is not that sort of compelling character.

In an age of personality and easy celebrity, Kallis is simply a very great cricketer who quietly goes about his business to the best of his ability.

And that, in the eyes of some detractors, is not enough to put him on a par with such as Sobers, or even the likes of England’s Ian Botham or Pakistan’s Imran Khan, who had more X-factor quality.

Those who would advocate Sobers as the best could rightly buttress their argument with more than statistics.

Sobers could bowl every ball in the book – fast-medium, slow left-arm orthodox, slow left-arm wrist-spin, you name it.

He was also a brilliant fielder in any position, whereas Kallis primarily catches his pigeons at slip.

But Sobers was also a record-breaking cricketer.

For a long time, he held the highest individual Test innings – 365 not out against Pakistan at Kingston in 1958.

He was the first man to hit six sixes in an over – Malcolm Nash the unfortunate victim when Nottinghamshire visited Swansea in 1968.

Through such remarkable performances, Sobers left an indelible mark on the game’s history.

Kallis, too, has left a mark but less conspicuously.

His critics ask whether he has ever won a Test series, whether a series has ever truly belonged to him.

They protest that he scores too slowly in an era where Twenty20 fireworks are king.

Even the great ones have their detractors.

But Kallis should be celebrated for what he is – a marvel of the age.

He may or may not have been better than Sobers.

But that he is in the same high bracket cannot be disputed.

It is a pantheon to which many cricketers aspire but precious few ascend.