South Africa has enjoyed the bulk of its cricketing success in the Test arena. Without the pressure of a World Cup or knockout game, The Proteas have stood up to the test and pulled off some historic and iconic wins. The players who have represented the Proteas over their history have been some of the finest the world has seen. This is in no small part due to the fact that they have produced the most dynamic all-rounders in the game. Here is the best South African test side through the ages and no doubt one that would have beaten most teams home and away.
Note: Selection is based only on Test careers, which, given South Africa’s history, can be problematic. For example, Barry Richards, undoubtedly one of South Africa’s finest cricketers, was able to play just four Tests and as such was not selected.
11. Allan Donald
When ‘White Lightening’ was thrown the new red kookaburra ball you could feel the anticipation around the ground and the trepidation in the opposition dressing room. There were no ‘looseners’ or ‘freebies’ when AD began his long and athletic run up. He was at you straight away and would pepper batsman with a barrage of fast bowling that would be as effective and as it was painful. In 72 matches he took 330 wickets at an average of 22.95. There was no place to hide when Donald was steaming in and he led the Proteas bowling attack with distinction.
10. Dale Steyn
The Phalaborwa Express has been the best bowler of his generation and produced some of the most sensational bowling spells seen in the test arena. Steyn was next off the young fast bowling conveyor belt for South Africa and arguably went onto to surpass his predecessors. In his 85 tests he has taken 417 wickets at an incredible average of 22.30. He has been nothing short of phenomenal for South Africa and stands on the brink of history as he only needs 5 more wickets to become the leading wicket taker in tests for his country. The fire, aggression and passion burns brightly in Dale Steyn and there is more to come from him.
9. Hugh Tayfield
Hugh Tayfield was the best spinner South Africa ever produced in the test format. His ability to control a game whilst taking wickets was legendary. His right-arm offbreak was the stuff of dreams for a captain as he could always be called upon to break a partnership or steady the run flow. Tayfield once bowled 137 consecutive balls without conceding a run against England in the 1956-57 series. In his 37 matches he took 170 wickets at an average of 25.91. His records remain untouched as he still stands out as the premium spin bowler for South Africa.
8. Vernon Philander
Vernon Philander’s contribution towards South African test cricket has been truly remarkable. Whether it is with bat or ball, you can always count on Philander. He played an instrumental role in getting South Africa to the summit of world test cricket and his record proves he is one of the most successful test all-rounders to play the game. When he’s not dismantling batting line ups with his swing, guile and control, he is contributing vital runs at the back end of an innings. In 46 matches he has taken 171 wickets at an average of 22.45. He has also scored 1,186 runs with a batting average of 25.78. Philander provides world class bowling and clever batting, and is a great fit in this all time side.
7. Shaun Pollock
Shaun Pollock would walk into just about any of the world’s greatest sides. He was an excellent cricketer who played the game with passion and an unwavering joy. His partnership with Allan Donald upfront with the new ball was immense. In his 108 tests he took 421 wickets at an average of 23.11 and is still the all-time leading wicket taker for the Proteas. Also a valuable asset with the bat, he contributed with 3,781 runs at an average of 32.31, which included 2 international hundreds. Pollock was one of the true greats of the game who used his talents to the fullest and led from the front.
6. Mark Boucher
Picking the finest South African wicketkeeper for the all time test XI is a snap call. Nicknamed ‘Guinness’ because of all the records he broke, Boucher was a phenomenon behind the stumps for the Proteas. In 147 games he took an amazing 532 catches and made 23 stumpings. If that wasn’t enough he also went on to score 5,515 runs at an average of 30.30 which included 5 hundreds. He was the ever-reliable and dependable keeper that South Africa can thank for many incredible wins and performances.
5. AB de Villiers
AB de Villiers coming in to bat at number 5 for the all time South Africa XI emphasises just how strong the side is. His flamboyancy, aided by a measured approach, has made him one of South Africa’s finest test batsmen. In his 106 matches he has scored 8,074 runs at an average of 50.46; his highest individual score being a mammoth 278 not out. He is undoubtedly a modern-day great and has proved that time and time again. His attacking style has always given South Africa the edge over their opponents during tense moments of play.
4. Jacques Kallis
Jacques Kallis is arguably the finest all-rounder to play the game of cricket and easily fits in to the number 4 slot. The shift he put in for South Africa over his almost 20 year career has guaranteed him a legacy that shall never be forgotten. In his 166 matches he scored 13,289 runs at an average of 55.37. His prolific performance with the ball has seen him take 292 wickets at an average of 32.65. Kallis was a true warrior in the test arena and he put on a show that will be almost impossible to replicate by any player around the world.
3. Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla has become the world’s premier number 3 batsman. Often ushered to the wicket during times of early trouble and uncertainty, Amla has always answered the call. His performances have been even more impressive given the wickets he has had to bat on, negotiating the fast, bouncy and green South African pitches with skill and bravery. His average of 49.87 in 109 tests speaks for itself. He also holds the highest test score for any South African with 311 not out. His calm demeanour has given the Proteas composure when all around him others were losing their heads.
2. Graeme Pollock
Graeme Pollock played just long enough before South Africa were banned from international cricket to prove that he was a talent that comes along once in a lifetime. His record of 2,256 runs in 23 games gave him an average of 60.97. International cricket was all set up for Graeme Pollock to make his mark on it. A fierce test batsman who would flay an attack with frightening ease, he had it all. His 7 hundreds were simply outstanding and he averaged a ton almost every three games. Few doubt that he would have gone on to become as good as Lara, Tendulkar or Kallis. He more than earns his place as an opener in this Proteas all time test XI.
1. Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith could have made this all time XI just for his captaincy skills. He was a leader who led from the front; a man who put his body on the line to guide the way. Smith wasn’t just a world class captain but also a very skilled batsman who sits second on the all time leading run scorers list for South Africa. He amassed 9,265 runs at an average of 48.25. The seaming South African wickets made it a nightmare for batsman to get settled but Smith did it on a regular basis. He truly was a player for the big occasion and was revered the world over. His record of going unbeaten for 9 years away from home is quite staggering. Graeme Smith is surely the best captain and opening batsman South Africa has seen.
I note the section based on test careers. However, if you were picking a team of the best players who ever played test cricket for South Africa, Barry Richards would be the first name on the list as opener.
Also hard to leave out Procter and some of the early players e.g. Dudley Nurse, his average of 53 is higher than Hashim , AB and Graeme Smith and he played in an era when batting was generally consider a lot harder than today.
How can you it Pollock as an opener?
Leaving out (reluctantly) Richards and Proctor, my XI is:
Test careers aside, pick is fairly easy
Cannot see how any other side ever could beat this one in a 5 test series played anywhere. Donald and Procter to open bowling; vd Bijl and Rice first change; Barlow and Faulkner to follow; Richards adds extra spin. Jennings to adds “extra” slip because of extraordinary ability. Batting to no 8. Captained by Rice. 12th man is Bland.
ALL TIME BEST SOUTH AFRICAN (11) TEST TEAM :-
1. GRAEME SMITH (C)
6.AB DE VILLIERS
7.MARK BOUCHER (WK)
Boucher at 6 and Pollock at 7 leaves you light on batting. Has Pollock ever opened
de Villiers (wk)