India in SA
Kallis: Records never mattered
Jacques Kallis (Gallo Images)
Durban - Even at the very end, Jacques Kallis was setting benchmarks.
GALLERY: Kallis in pictures
How ironic, then, that a cricketer whose 13 289 runs, 292 wickets and 200 catches through an 18-year Test career that ignited debate over whether he was the greatest all-rounder in the history of the game should be so unaffected by his momentous personal numbers.
"I've never played the game for records and statistics," Kallis said after his 166th and final test on Monday ended with one more victory with South Africa. "Records have never been important to me."
Actually, the one stat that Kallis may cherish above all is now 82. That's the number of Tests he's helped his team win, behind only Australians Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh and Glenn McGrath.
Kallis was so often misunderstood, his various team-mates over nearly 20 years have said since he surprisingly announced his retirement from the long format on Christmas Day in an attempt to keep it low profile. Misunderstood as a player some portrayed as interested in his own performance above anything else. The famous Kallis "bubble" he would disappear into while batting, unflappable and focused entirely on his innings out in the middle, led some critics to claim he played for himself.
And an introverted character by his own admission, Kallis rarely felt the need to speak out and set that record straight, completely comfortable in his own mind with what he was doing.
"I took a little bit of flak over the years, and made decisions that I thought was for the best of the team," Kallis said in his final exchange with reporters as a Test player. "People didn't always agree, but at the time they were never selfish decisions."
Kallis's quiet way has become as much a part of his story as his pages and pages of runs, wickets and catches.
"Never been one to shout my mouth off, I just tried to get the job done and quietly pass on the knowledge that I had and acquired over the years to the guys that want it," he said.
His dry sense of humour also was usually saved for his closest friends and team-mates.
"I've got a little older, got a little bit wiser, lost a little bit of hair, gained a little bit of hair," he said of his career and the hair replacement treatment he had to reverse premature balding.
Kallis put his team's success above everything, he said, and that has been backed up by countless tributes to him in the five days since he said the Durban Test against India would be his last, ending his career back at the ground where he started as a 20-year-old with plenty of potential in 1995.
What Kallis has delivered for South Africa since then is their best ever player.
He has also quietly demanded, through his performances, that he be compared with the all-time greats. He is arguably on a par with West Indian Garry Sobers as the game's best all-rounder. While eras are difficult to compare, Kallis's figures have made sure he must be compared, even if he's not one for the stats.
In 93 Tests, Sobers made 8 032 runs at an average of 57.78 and took 235 wickets at an average of 34 03. Kallis had 13 289 runs at 55.37 and 292 wickets at 32.65.
In Kallis's last match, his farewell hundred in the second Test against India took him to 45 centuries, still second only to Indian hero Sachin Tendulkar. The 115 also took him past Rahul Dravid - by a single run - and third behind Tendulkar and Ponting on the all-time test run-scorers list.
He is the only player to make more than 10 000 Test runs and take more than 250 wickets. And his 200 catches are second behind only Dravid.
Kallis said at his final news conference - where he was given a round of applause by reporters and appeared more comfortable than he's ever been as the centre of attention - that there were more important things for him during his career than the runs he scored with his flowing cover drive, or the wickets he took with his menacing seam bowling. Or the catches he scooped with little fuss at his favored second slip position wearing his trademark sun hat and his sunglasses.
"I've always believed you play the game hard on the field without crossing boundaries," he said. "But at the end of the day you've still got to have mates. If you can go to most of the players you've played against and have a beer with them, I think you've played the game in the correct way."
Captain Graeme Smith was asked about South African Test cricket now without Kallis.
"I don't think we're ever going to replace Jacques," Smith said. "The sooner we face up to that fact the better."