If you love cricket and happen to be an Indian, these are truly embarassing times.But of course, the moment Sachin Tendulkar scores his 100th international ton, we will forget the walloping and the misery of our test team and and console ourselves with the belief that India at least has the greatest modern era cricketer in the form of Tendulkar. Who knows, we might actually end up naming a road after him and if that were not enough, confer the Bharat Ratna on him. After the Anna meltdown, India badly needs a national hero to look up to. And who better than Tendulkar?
But, much as I love India and love cricket, I have to argue that it is Jacques Kallis of South Africa and not Sachin Tendulkar who happens to be the greatest modern era cricketer, if not THE all time great. I have been trawling through cricket statistics for a while, and it is the sheer weight of numbers that forces me to admit-albeit reluctantly-that Kallis is a better and greater cricketer than Tendulkar. Kallis has played 36 tests less than Tendulkar and already has 12260 runs at an average of 57 with 41 centuries to his name. I have no doubt in my mind that Kallis would cross 15,000 runs and 50 centuries in test cricket if he plays 186 tests like Tendulkar. Mind you, Kallis is about 2 years younger than Tendulkar and arhuably more fit. Sure, cricket is as fickle as a damsel in distress and Kallis could well retire next week; but even you don't really think that is going to happen, is it?
Let me first admit a few things. At first, I seriously thought of considering the bowling greats like Glen Mcgrath, Shane Warne, Muthia Muralitharan and Anil Kumble when I was trawling through cricket data. But then, I succumbed to the bias we all have towards batting records and let those greats be. Personally though I would definitely rank Glen Mcgrath as an all time great; just for the fact that he is a fast bowler who has taken more than 600 wickets. Then again, I also thought of Graeme Smith, Inzamam ul Haq and Shivnarain Chanderpaul Mahela Jayawardane and Kumar Sangakkara, all of whom have scored prolifically in their own way. But eventually, I settled down for a choice between Sachin, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid and of course Jacques Kallis.
There is little to choose between the five when it comes to batting. All have class stamped all over, all have averages in excess of 50, all have scored majestic centuries and runs away from home and all have won and saved matches for their teams.For example, Brian Lara retired after playing just 131 (the word 'just' is apt for these guys!) tests and yet scored almost 12,000 runs. You have got to ask: what if this virtuoso of grace and elegance had played 50 more tests? Then again, there is Ricky Ponting, who has silenced his critics with two consecutive half centuries and a vintage century. Not to mention the number of times his bat has won matches for Australia. Then again, there is the Wall Rahul Dravid who also happens to hold the world record for the number of test cathes; 210 to be precise. And finally Tendulkar, whose records you are all familiar with. More than 30,000 international runs and 99 centuries. And so many records that you tend to lose track.
Yet, Jacques kallis stands head and shoulders above these titans. He has not only scored 12,260 runs in test cricket, but also taken 270 wickets and pouched 174 cathes. If you add up tests and ODIs, Kallis has scored 10,000 or so runs less than Sachin. But Kallis has 533 wickets and 297 catches. Tendulkar has 201 wickets and 248 catches. Tendulkar has played 172 more international matches than Kallis. What would the report card for Kallis if he had played 179 more international matches?
I rest my case.