When Kepler Wessels led the Proteas against the West Indies in Bridgetown in 1992, it was South Africa’s first participation in the format in 22 years.
The country’s isolation from international sport was a period that robbed many a talented cricketer of the opportunity to play at the highest level.
Since then, the Proteas have had their ups and downs, but by and large they have been one of the game’s most consistently performing outfits and they have produced some quality players along the way.
In the spirit of using the sporting lockdown as a chance to reflect, we thought this a good time to look back on the last 28 years and select our best ever Proteas Test XI.
Only players who featured after isolation are eligible.
It’s obviously a matter of personal opinion, so if you disagree with our XI, then let us know what you would change by sending a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here we go!
1. Graeme Smith (captain)
The burly left-hander was not always easy on the eye, but he was so effective. Smith got up for the big occasions and piled on the runs at the top of the order for well over a decade. As much as he dominated with the bat, it is his captaincy that he will be remembered for most. He led his country a staggering 108 times in the format and famously took them to No 1 in the world in 2012, where they stayed for over a full calendar year.
2. Gary Kirsten
Could so easily have been Herschelle Gibbs, who was as talented as they come, but Kirsten is exactly the man you want taking on the world’s best bowlers at the top of the order. As gritty as anyone, Kirsten would lose out to Gibbs in both limited overs formats, but on the Test stage he was an impenetrable wall, often when his country was on the ropes and needed him most.
3. Hashim Amla
When he was on song, which was most of the time, there was nobody in world cricket better than Amla. Scored his runs all over the park, thanks largely to a pair of wrists that could work the ball just about anywhere. In the heat of battle, Amla was always composed. His 311* at The Oval in 2012 remains the highest score ever by a South African in the format.
4. Jacques Kallis
One of the greats to ever play the game, Kallis is the first name on this team sheet every single time. South Africa’s all-time leading run-scorer in the format by nearly 4 000 runs. To average 55.37 over a career that spanned 18 years and 166 Test matches is just superhuman. Kallis’ batting alone makes him a great, but when you factor in his 292 Test wickets – more than Vernon Philander and Paul Adams – then his contributions to the Proteas begin bordering on the ridiculous.
5. Daryll Cullinan
There are other options here – Ashwell Prince probably comes closest – but Cullinan’s numbers are simply better. He historically broke Graeme Pollock’s long-standing Test record of 274 at Eden Park in 1999, finishing 275* to post the highest score by a South African in Test cricket at the time. All too often remembered for an ongoing and losing battle against Shane Warne, Cullinan emerged as one of the best South Africa produced in the modern era.
6. AB de Villiers
Has there ever been a more naturally gifted Proteas batsman? De Villiers is a cricketing genius and while he might be remembered more for his ridiculous ‘Mr. 360’ white ball shot-making, he also amassed 8 765 Test runs – fourth on South Africa’s all-time list – at 50.66 per innings. Such a special player who would walk into any side in the world, while he is also one of the best fielders South Africa has ever seen.
7. Quinton de Kock
Mark Boucher’s 553 Test dismissals make him one of the greats, but for me De Kock’s ability with the bat is impossible to ignore. His glovework is also underrated in comparisons with Boucher and he actually averages more dismissals per innings – 2.404 to 1.982. Either player would be comfortably at home here, but De Kock has an ability to change the course of a match by himself with his aggressive, skilful batting.
8. Shaun Pollock
The former Proteas skipper was a new ball specialist and while the pace may have dropped, he seemed to get more accurate the longer his career went on. One of only two South Africans to go past 400 wickets and the fact that he did so at an average of just over 23 tells its own story. Hugely capable with the bat, too, where he carded two Test centuries and left with an average of over 32.
9. Vernon Philander
Only played 64 Test matches, but Philander was as devastating as anyone with a new ball in his hands. Put on countless bowling clinics over the years and had an ability to rip through opposition top orders. So incredibly skilful.
10. Dale Steyn
South Africa’s all-time leading wicket-taker in the format with 439, Steyn will go down as one of the best to have ever played the game. In his prime, he was a nightmare for batsmen with pace and movement and boundless energy hallmarks of his game.
11. Allan Donald
The pioneer of South Africa’s proud fast bowling history, Donald was the original speedster. His average of 22.25 is better than every other bowler in this team. His battles with the likes of Michael Atherton and Sachin Tendulkar are still replayed to this day. The smoothest of actions was followed by a delivery that was venomous, and Donald singlehandedly paved the way for the many quality South African quicks that came after him in the professional era.
Makhaya Ntini has to get a mention here and only misses out because he went for significantly more runs per wicket – 28.82 – than the other seamers included. His pace, bounce and 390 Test wickets – third on the SA list – make him a South African legend.
There is also no specialist spinner in this side. If one had to be included for balance’s sake, then Paul Adams or Paul Harris would perhaps come into the conversation.
Let us know what you think!