Allrounders November 30, 2009

Plenty to pick from

Allrounders have been part of the South African landscape since cricket's beginnings. A look at six of the best contenders

Shake a tree in South Africa and the ground beneath it is likely to be littered with allrounders. So blessed is the country with players who are able to bat and bowl - fast, at least - well enough to hold down a place in a team on the strength of either skill, that it seems the gods of the game have done the place a disservice as much as they have blessed it.

It's as if South Africa has been granted all the allrounders it could possibly want, but hardly any of the spinners it so desperately needs. Still, two players for the price of one is a decent bargain. Consequently there aren't many South African captains complaining too bitterly about the paucity of quality spin bowlers.

South African pitches tend to be friendly to seam bowling and accommodating of uncomplicated batting. That goes some way to explaining why allrounders thrive there. Proof of that is the fact that allrounders have been part of the landscape in the country since cricket's beginnings. Pioneers like Jimmy Sinclair and Aubrey Faulkner have counterparts in modern heroes like Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis.

Nonetheless, while Kallis is certainly in the reckoning for our all-time South African XI for middle-order batting prowess, he has not made the shortlist of allrounders. Is this because there are simply too many South African allrounders to choose from, and therefore it has been thought useful to ship off quality players into other departments? Or has the well of South Africans who have been genetically advantaged enough to star with both bat and ball finally been proven to have a bottom?

Certainly, the domestic game in the country seems as well-endowed with multi-skilled players as ever. So much so that Daryn Smit of the KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins routinely strips off his wicketkeeping pads to bowl distinctly non-occasional legspin. With 58 wickets in 43 first-class matches to his name - not to mention 123 dismissals, a century and seven half-centuries - Smit might just be a prototype for the cricketer of the future.

But for that to happen, cricket's more hidebound factions will have to relinquish their obsession with specialist players. That doesn't seem to be something we can look forward to anytime soon. For now, we'll have to content ourselves with marvelling at those magnificent men and the all-round talents they thrust into service, whether bowling or batting. Our jury has done exactly that, and here are the contenders:

Aubrey Faulkner
Afflicted first by malaria, then by depression, which led him to take his own life, he nonetheless crammed much into his 48 years. An early master of the googly and an un-pretty though highly effective batsman.

Mike Procter
Started his run next to the sightscreen and tore into the wicket with an untidy action and an unsettling fury. Similarly spectacular with the bat, once scoring centuries in six consecutive first-class innings for Rhodesia.

Brian McMillan
A giant of a man, but a caresser of the ball. Pierced the armour of almost as many batsmen with his wit as with awkward bounce. Virtually infallible in the slips.

Trevor Goddard
Grace on wheels. A batsman to whom elegance came as easily as his smile, and a bowler who looked as fresh in the last over of the day as he did in the first.

Jimmy Sinclair
A big-bang cricketer - could hit hard and bowl fast, and look good doing either. A template for the modern South African allrounder? Escaped from a Boer POW camp to take 107 wickets on the 1901 tour of England.

Shaun Pollock
Simply put, had too much talent not to outgrow the boots of a world-class fast bowler. Delighted the purists with his immaculately grooved action, but trusted his instincts to inform his batting.

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

Comments