South Africa’s greatest-ever all-rounder, Jacques Kallis, isn’t always a valid yardstick for measuring other cricketers, but when it comes to Ben Stokes, even greats are fair game.
Kallis made a slow start to his Test career, something that is easy to forget when looking back on his glittering career marked by remarkable consistency. Stokes, on the other hand, started quite quickly by smashing a ton in just his second Test.
Both began their careers at No 6, Test cricket’s go-to slot for blooding new all-rounders, but Kallis would find himself at home at Nos 3 and 4 in the order.
From a batting point of view Stokes’ first Test matches went a lot better than Kallis’ baptism of fire. It took six Tests for the Wynberg Boys’ High School old boy to notch a half-century, albeit in the hostile surrounds of Rawalpindi.
But if you fast forward to Test No 50, the tortoise Kallis has the match of temperamental hare Stokes.
By the end of Kallis’ 50th Test played against the West Indies in April 2001, the burly all-rounder had 2,952 Test runs to his name at an average of 41. His nearly 3,000 runs included seven tons and 16 half-centuries.
Stokes’ journey to 50 Tests proved far more tumultuous than for Kallis, who was often criticised for being too boring. The Kiwi-born England star might have reached his half-century of caps sooner had it not been for one fateful night out in Bristol.
As it was Stokes played his 50th Test early in 2019. Coincidentally he also celebrated his 50th Test cap in a match against the West Indies.
Stokes would reach the 3,000 Test-run mark in his 50th Test, albeit with an average of 33.33. There is little to choose between the two in terms of tons at that point with Stokes sporting six against Kallis’ seven. To Stokes’ credit, he reached his first Test double-ton far quicker than the former Proteas man and did so against South Africa.
Kallis retired from Test cricket the year Stokes debuted, but the game has changed tremendously since the former hung up his boots.
Another factor that skews comparisons between the two players is the roles they have filled in their respective teams. While Stokes can command a top-six batting position, it could be argued that he is more of a bowling all-rounder than Kallis.
Kallis was a reliable source of overs to his captains, but was often used to lighten the load of the frontline bowlers, whereas Stokes has proven to be more of a strike bowler.
In his first 50 Tests, Kallis bowled 1,081.3 overs, while Stokes managed 1,185.3. Kallis took 94 wickets in those 50 Tests, while Stokes bagged 123 scalps. Stokes produced more match-changing moments with the ball, including four five-wicket hauls compared to two for Kallis.
The Englishman is very close to Kallis statistically, including in the field as a top-notch slip catcher who has grabbed 51 catches in his first 50 Tests. By the same stage of his career, Kallis had 48 catches in the bag.
Kallis and Stokes are very different players lumped together because of their extraordinary all-round talents, but one thing they have in common is value far beyond raw numbers.
Stokes is unlikely to give much thought to outdoing the SA cricket great, but his presence in the England team will serve to remind the Proteas what they have been missing since Kallis played his last Test.
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