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Is Kallis the greatest all-rounder?
Who is the greatest allrounder ever? Garry Sobers or Jacques Kallis? Only a generation which hasn't seen Sobers bat, bowl or field could come up with that question. Let me start off by saying that Kallis is phenomenal, a better cricketer than the Imran Khans and Kapil Devs who preceded him. No one can take away the staggering figures Kallis has notched up in every department of the game, and he is by far the best cricketer of the past two generations.
However, to compare him or anybody else to Sobers is unfair on Sobers.
Let me explain why. What Kallis lacks is grace. It's easy to imagine the South African as a rugby player, or even an American Rules footballer, but Garfield Sobers could not have been anything else but a cricketer. There was nothing mechanical about him, and that's something one cannot say even about Don Bradman. Sobers was the most naturally complete cricketing creation ever. Importantly, he was a cricketer's cricketer, in the sense that unless you have bowled to him or batted against him, you cannot judge how good he was. His effortlessness in every department of the game put his contemporaries to shame. God must have created Sobers in his spare time.
I'm sure many will disagree with me, but Sobers wasn't a statesman of the game in the way that Bradman was, although he was a very, very important figure for Barbados and West Indies cricket. Sobers, at heart, was happy-go-lucky, the kind who parties hard and plays harder. In his playing days, he came across as honest and extremely humble. He would not train or go to the gym like a Kapil or an Imran. He just had enormous energy and loved and respected the game beyond belief. The amount of cricket he played was phenomenal, yet a day before an important game he wasn't averse to getting drunk and bellowing, "I have to prove to myself I can bat, bowl and field!" Then he would go out and dazzle the world and we would watch in hushed silence. Even when he fielded, Sobers had a distinct presence, and would stand out among the 10 others in the field. Most important of all, he was a man of integrity. He would walk when he knew he was out.
Sobers never wore a thigh pad, and would just wrap a towel around and come in to bat. I couldn't help asking him once why he would do that, and he growled back at me, "Bish, what is this f****** bat for?" That was Sobers for you. It's not for him these comparisons, these statistics. He was least interested in figures. I remember in the third match of the World XI-versus-Australia series in Jan 1972, he was having a hard time from the media and scored 254 in the second innings at Melbourne. In the four sessions he batted he didn't take his pads off, and didn't eat anything. He just clenched his teeth, and drowned two large pegs of brandy and then knocked the hell out of Dennis Lillee. His natural grace didn't mean he was ever short of grit. You could not mess with Sobers.
If Sobers hadn't played cricket, of course today we would probably be hailing Kallis as the greatest allrounder of any era.
(As told to Partha Bhaduri)
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