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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