Middle order November 24, 2009

The dependables

Six contenders for South Africa's three middle-order spots - none of whom was in the habit of letting the side down

The middle order is the archetypal South African batsman's natural habitat, the place where push comes to shove for him. Not for him the epic stoicism that seems bred into the purehearts of the top order, nor the haphazard existence that is the lot of those who take guard amid the precariously tilting debris of what is kindly called the lower middle order. Far rather ask him to score his runs quickly while there are still wickets in the bank, and don't put too much emphasis on aesthetic considerations.

Some South Africans seem stifled by technique, while a few make a mockery of it. The majority take the coaching manual as their guide to varying degrees, and conjure the rest as they go along. These are the denizens of the middle order.

There is something in the national character that relishes proving people wrong. South Africans appear to be better than most at realising that the light they see at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, even when the rest of the world is convinced that it bloody well is.

This is, after all, the country that should have been broken by centuries of race hatred and inequality. It wasn't. Then it became the country that should have been destroyed in the aftermath of those centuries of race hatred and inequality. Again, it wasn't.

Instead, the centre of South African society held firm thanks to the leadership of a man whose north star was fairness and justice for all. In another world, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela would have made a middle-order batsman of the highest order. He's not on our list of contenders for South Africa's middle order, but those who have made it aren't in the habit of letting people down either.

Jacques Kallis
Blessed with an impregnable mind and the forthright technique to make the most of being built like a rugby forward. A master batsman, a wicket-taker of note, and an unsurpassed slip fielder. A modern colossus.

Daryll Cullinan
That rare thing: a South African batsman imbued with natural flair. Essayed his strokes in the grand manner. Broke Graeme Pollock's record as the youngest South African to score a first-class century.

Dudley Nourse
Never mind his Test average of 53.81. Rather remember that he batted for nine hours with a broken thumb in Nottingham in 1951, scoring 208 and leading South Africa to their first Test win in 16 years. Respect.

Graeme Pollock
Could have felled a large tree with one swoop of his cover drive. With his feet planted wide apart and his chin resolutely forward, he stirred something in every soul. Genius.

Herbie Taylor
Not many had the gall to farm the strike when Sydney Barnes was bowling. Taylor did, and scored 91 and 100 for Natal in MCC's only loss on their 1913-14 tour. A batsman of superb technique, and by all accounts - even EW Swanton's - a bloody good bloke.

AB de Villiers
A dasher, smasher, crasher and basher, who is as adept at sending the ball scything through the covers as stopping it from doing so. Has a handy sideline in keeping wicket. If this cricket gig doesn't work out, there's always the pro golf circuit.

We'll be publishing an all-time South Africa XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your middle-order batsmen click here

Telford Vice made his Test debut as a cricket writer in Barbados in 1992 - the match that marked the end of South Africa's isolation

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  • Phil on November 27, 2009, 23:30 GMT

    I have to express astonishment at all the comments in favour of Hanse Cronje. As a batsman, his main "claim to fame" was that he played Warne probably as well as anyone, taking the attack to him and ensuring he hit the rare bad balls to the boundary - unlike many who let the great man get away with the odd loose one without taking full advantage. He was, however, a poor player of quick bowling (especially for a South African) and an average of 36 says it all. But irrespective of his playing limitations, I find it hard to see how anyone who would claim to love this greatest of games could possibly consider him for an all too obvious reason, an act that would rule him out of my XI even if he'd been as good as Pollock.

  • Hannes on November 27, 2009, 20:09 GMT

    South African cricket has always been blessed with an overabundance of three things: allrounders, fast bowlers, and middle order geniuses. The list above could be expanded to double its size and it would still be a tough pick. But when I say "a tough pick", I mean picking the backups. It seems almost a travesty to not be able to pick a guy like Herbie Taylor, but the simple fact is that we're faced in this list -- if I may be so bold as to overlook Barry Richards for a minute -- with the three best batsmen South Africa has ever produced on the Test stage. Those three men are (in terms of statistics over a span of 15 or more Tests, series-by-series contexts, correlation with South African cricket's greatest achievements, and first-hand anecdotal account by those who witnessed their play): Jacques Kallis; Graeme Pollock; Dudley Nourse. After that comes an even more difficult task: deciding their order in the batting lineup!

  • Peter on November 27, 2009, 17:11 GMT

    Given the format: I'd like Taylor to open with Richards. Then I can have Nourse, Pollock and Kallis in the middle order. I hope I get a chance to select Irvine as w/k - he is probably worth a shout in the middle order just as a batsman.

    Given the versatility of the SA players, one could consider Kallis for the allrounder slot, Procter at 8 to open the bowling, and then leave Mitchell as opener and Taylor at 3. Forcing us to select players in particular slots will not allow for the best side to be chosen.

  • sabbir on November 27, 2009, 6:07 GMT

    are you kidding?A B is nominated and Collin bland is not ! if A B is eligible then so is Ashwell Prince and Hashim Amla. Prince has a far better record than A B. Prince - 11 century in 48 tests with average of 47. A B - 9 century in 53 tests with average of 43. Whenever S A is in trouble Prince stands like a rock . most of his centuries are scored when other batters ( including A B ) fails miserably . His record in bowling friendly pitches is superb. Anyway here is my team = 1. Barry Richards , 2 . Graeme Smith , 3 . Graeme Pollock , 4. Dudley Nourse , 5 . Jack Kallis , 6 . Aubrey Faulkner , 7 . John Waite , 8 . Mike Proctor , 9 . Shaun Pollock , 10 . Allan Donald ,11 . Hugh tayfield .12 Th man Colin Bland.

  • Dawid on November 26, 2009, 18:20 GMT

    Those people surprised at not seeing Hansie Cronje's name on the list simply need to look at his average of 36 to know why. When you compare that to players like Kallis and Pollock it really is not even close. Even a player like Ashwell Prince far eclipses Hansie's record. Hansie was an good batsmen and a useful bowler, but captaincy aside he probably wasn't a GREAT player, which is what this list is about. As for AB: I think it's a little early to have him on this list, even if most of us will be surprised if he doesn't end his career as one of SAs greats. However if the list was based on potential then a few of the isolation era players could perhaps rather have been included.

  • Michael on November 26, 2009, 10:26 GMT

    Personally I am a huge AB fan but at the moment I dont think he deserves to be there. In say three or four years he should almost be a certainty but hardly now, as he has only recently got his average above 40. His fielding does definately add to his credentials but you dont pick a middle order for fielding. Will be a superstar in a few years though but isnt quite there yet!

  • Levi on November 26, 2009, 8:29 GMT

    1 G.Smith 2 H.Gibbs 3 J.Kallis 4 AB de Villiers 5 D.Cullinan 6 S.Pollock 7 M.Boucher 8 N.Boje 9 D.Steyn 10 A.Donald 11 M.Ntini Just a pre-selective list of the greatest modern South Africans in my opinion. Tough not to include the likes of Kirsten, Klusener, Rhodes etc. Please post comments ASAP and let me know what you think. P.S. All opinions welcomed! =)

  • kailash on November 26, 2009, 6:20 GMT

    Hi everboby. My ALL Time XI : 1) Garry Kristen. 2) Barry Richards. 3) Daryll Cullinan 4) J Kallis 5) Hanse Cronje 6) Graeme Pollock 7) AB de Villiers 8) Shun Pollock 9) Mark Boucher 10) Styne 11) Donald 7)

  • Rileen on November 25, 2009, 20:02 GMT

    Having De Villiers in here is even more ridiculous than having Atherton as a potential opener for the English all time XI.

    Were the panelists influenced by Obama's Nobel, perchance?

  • amogh on November 25, 2009, 17:29 GMT

    Why is Cronje not even considered? As much as I love watching AB bat, Cronje was a class apart altogether.

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