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ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time

The XI

A meeting of past and present

South Africa's all-time side helps dismantle the divide and isolation built between eras

Telford Vice

December 18, 2009

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

Graeme and Shaun Pollock smile before the game. South Africa v Chairman's XI at Lilac Hill, Perth, November 25th 1997
Graeme and Shaun Pollock: one family, two world-beaters Colin Whelan / © Action Photographics

Selection is neither science nor art, and it seems to involve equal amounts of fact and fiction. That, no doubt, makes the process a pain in the back side for some. Here's hoping those who have served on the jury charged with delivering Cricinfo's all-time South Africa XI don't feel that way.

Certainly, it has been a time of careful thought about eras and players some of us know about only because those who have gone before passed on their experiences. Of course, they also gave us their likes and dislikes, their prejudices and pre-conceptions. Conversely, we have had to guard against measuring too generously the merits of the players we have seen and known ourselves.

Sometimes these influences collide. For instance, even those who first meet Trevor Goddard in his later life cannot help knowing they are in the presence of a man of rare grace, intelligence and spirit. Without having seen him play, and regardless of the bald statistics of his career, there can be no doubt that Goddard was one damn fine cricketer. So, never mind in the backside, it's a pain in the brain - and sometimes in the heart - this selection business.

To the final reckoning. Time to do the deed.

We have assembled a veritable Zulu impi of a cricket team, an XI that could hold its own and then some against any ranged against it. The team includes a pair of Pollocks and a Nourse, but nary a Kirsten. Of the current generation, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis have made the cut, but not Mark Boucher.

Alas, there is no Goddard.

But it is heartening to know that Allan Donald's greatness remains undimmed, and to realise that, once, South Africa depended on an offspinner to take the lion's share of their wickets.

Among the consequences of South Africa's isolation from international cricket was the virtual building of a Berlin Wall between the game's past and present in the country. Perhaps the real value of exercises like the one that we complete below is in helping to dismantle that divide.

Barry Richards
"I would have chosen Richards to bat for my life, provided he was in the right mood. Always perfectly balanced, he had the ability to make the fastest bowlers look medium-paced, while his footwork was a nimble counter to spin." Colin Bryden

Graeme Smith
"A big presence in every respect, Smith has done his country proud both with bat (average 50.33 after 77 Tests) and "armband". England know ruefully about his prowess: twin double-centuries in his maiden series as captain there in 2003, and a series-swaying 154 not out in the fourth innings at Edgbaston in 2008. First South African captain to conquer Australia away - a juggernaut landmark." Robert Houwing

Jacques Kallis
"One of the best batsmen produced by this country and also one of the best allrounders. His batting technique is as good as I have ever seen. I have never rated cricketers according to their stats, but the record books will show that his batting, bowling and catching in Test cricket are as good as that of the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers." Ali Bacher

Graeme Pollock
"In every country's all-time XI there will probably be two or three certainties but only two or three of those men would be certainties in an all-time world XI. Graeme Pollock is one of them. Almost certainly the first name the jury wrote down, probably closely followed by Barry Richards and Mike Procter." Neil Manthorp

Dudley Nourse
"Nourse was one of the most heroic of South Africa's Test cricketers, one of the longest-serving, and he was world-class at a time when the national team was regarded as second-rate. At the age of 40 he made a double-century, 208, against England at Nottingham also leading the Springboks to their first Test win in 16 years. In that innings he played with a broken thumb and grittily batted for nine hours." Archie Henderson

Aubrey Faulkner
"One of the earliest exponents of the googly, he differed from other bowlers of that type because of his ability to send down quite a fast ball, almost a yorker, and when at his best, with faultless length, skill in turning the ball either way and a puzzling variation of flight, he proved too much for some of the world's greatest batsmen." Wisden

Mike Procter
"Quite simply, a bums-on-seats cricketer: a dashing, dynamic allrounder whose Test career was curtailed by apartheid to seven matches. He claimed 41 Test wickets at a dreamy average of 15.02, with his burning pace off a long, energetic run-up, although his batting flamboyance was more evident for Rhodesia, and Gloucestershire in particular." Robert Houwing

Shaun Pollock
"Started out as a strike bowler and formed the greatest new-ball attack with Allan Donald that South Africa has ever had. The second half of his career saw him collect wickets with his poisonous and almost unprecedented control of line and length. Wickets fell often at the other end when he was bowling maidens." Neil Manthorp

Johnny Waite
"Waite was a craftsman behind the stumps, renowned for taking spectacular catches standing back and being equally skillful standing up to the spinners. In addition, he was virtually a Test-class batsman, scoring four centuries and averaging over 30 in an era when wicketkeepers were not expected to score that many runs." Andrew Samson

Hugh Tayfield
"… one of the greatest offspinners the game has seen… Tayfield took more wickets per Test match (4.59) then either Jim Laker or Lance Gibbs (4.19 and 3.91)… he was exceptionally accurate and could bowl all day without wavering." Wisden

Allan Donald
"Donald was the bedrock of the South Africa team when the country was readmitted to international cricket in 1992. He also became the first South African to take more than 300 wickets in Tests, ending with 330 at an excellent average of 22.25. In Tests and ODIs, Donald took more than 500 wickets and more than 1200 in first-class matches." Archie Henderson

Cricinfo readers' XI
We invited readers to vote on the nominees in each segment. Here's who they picked.
Graeme Smith, Barry Richards, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Pollock, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Shaun Pollock, Mike Procter, Dale Steyn, Hugh Tayfield, Allan Donald.

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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Posted by Woody111 on (December 21, 2009, 0:40 GMT)

In ten years time no doubt JP Duminy and AB DeVilliers will press for an alltime 11 selection. Those two guys are the future of RSA batting. Currently, if Amla develops more consistency in his conversions, RSA will have the best top 6 in world cricket; even if Kallis retires.

Posted by BellCurve on (December 20, 2009, 8:41 GMT)

@Waspsting - AB de Villiers has been playing Test cricket for 5 years yet is still only 25 years old. So far he has accumulated 3,500 Test runs at an average of 44. In the last two years he averaged 60. In the last year he averaged 70. He is getting better and better as he approaches his peak. If he stays focused and injury free everything suggests that in ten years time he will not be counted among SA greats, but among the world's all-time greats. Personally I did not vote for him. But I can surely understand why some of the readers voted for him. As for Klusener: he was a fantastic cricketer in all formats of the game. The only rather significant blemish in his stats (all formats, batting and bowling) is his Test bowling average - which by the way is about the same as the combined average for Anderson, Flintoff and Broad. Again, I didn't vote for him; but he is certainly worth a mention.

Posted by papamamba on (December 19, 2009, 21:36 GMT)

I cannot really disagree with the picks of the jury, only with the question asked. A South African XI that only includes those who played a test is an irrelevant exercise. So here is my All Time South African XI: Barry Richards, Jimmy Cook, Dudley Nourse, Graeme Pollock, Jacques Kallis, Clive Rice, Mike Proctor, Mark Boucher,Alan Kourie, Vince van der Bijl, Alan Donald. 12th man: Colin Bland

Posted by waspsting on (December 19, 2009, 18:56 GMT)

that AB Develliers is in the readers 11 (over Dudley Nourse, no less)... goes to show that 'readers' really don't know what they're talking about. also note the number of comments advocating inclusion of Hansie Cronje and Lance Klusener - neither of who are even close to all time world eleven candidates class.

thats fine - readers aren't necessarily 'experts' - and everyone has a right to their opinion. even uninformed ones.

BUT... i don't like the Crickinfo's policy of using readers votes as a tie-break in case of a hung jury - a situation which came up when Pieterson was voted into the england 11 ahead of Denis Compton (that they were hung on that issue to begin with doesn't say too much about the experts panel, either)

Posted by waspsting on (December 19, 2009, 18:40 GMT)

one of the easiest 11s to pick, so not many contentious choices. Would prefer Lindsay to Waite - nothing between them behind the wicket, but lindsay better in front. SUGGESTION FOR CRICKINFO - it'd be informative to see the breakdown of choices for each player and by selector.

Posted by Ulio on (December 19, 2009, 14:24 GMT)

No Kirsten? No Jhonty? No Klusener? Seriously those were the best players SA ever had, I am sad that Klusener is not on the list, he won numerous games for SA all on his own, during the time he played for SA, he was one of their best All-rounder.

Posted by ianw on (December 19, 2009, 8:11 GMT)

Just got back from OS so didn't get a chance to help pick the punters' team. I agree with comments that praise a real wicketkeeper's selection (though I'd have opted for Lindsay over Waite - just), and that our punters' team has too many moderns. Was Shaun Pollock really that good? And for me Barlow at 6, given we can't squeeze him in as opener - and captain - in place of Faulkner. Barlow would be in any side I ever selected: one of those guys whose effervescence, ability and enthusiam led him to do wonderful things just when his team needed them. And, play above the weight of his numbers (though 45 & 34 aint bad).

Posted by RomanNoseJob on (December 19, 2009, 0:19 GMT)

who were the muppets that voted for AB De Villiers in an all-time South African XI?

Posted by rson on (December 18, 2009, 18:33 GMT)

A much more logical set of selections than the previous All-time XI's. I would have liked to see a place for Trevor Goddard and possibly Denis Lindsay but those selected all have merit.

Posted by SatishHaldan on (December 18, 2009, 18:10 GMT)

If I select a text XI, its general composition has to be 5 batsmen, 1 all rounder, 1 wicket keeper, 2 pace bowlers and 2 spinners, keeping in mind that the team is supposed to play well on all surfaces in various countries. The type of a bowler an all rounder is immaterial. My team would be Barry Richards, Graeme Smith, Graeme Pollock, Dudley Nourse, Gary Kirsten, Jacque Kallis (all rounder), Denis Lindsay (WK), Neil Adcock, Alan Donald, Hugh Tayfiled and Bert Vogler. The writer, who states that Dudley Nourse is the weakest link, apparently does not know the history of South African Cricket. Bert Vogler was an outstanding spinner (leg break googly,who could also bowl fast medium. He took 64 wickets in 15 tests at an average of 22.73. Such an average is rather rare for an spinner.

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Telford Vice Telford Vice, crash-boom-out left-hand bat, sort-of legspinner, was never sure whether he was a cricket person. He thought he might be when he sidestepped a broken laptop and an utter dearth of experience to cover South Africa's first Test match in 22 years in Barbados in 1992. When he managed to complete Peter Kirsten's biography as well as retain what he calls his sanity, he pondered the question again. Similarly, when he made it through the 2007 World Cup - all of it, including the warm-up matches - his case for belonging to cricket's family felt stronger. But it was only when the World Twenty20 exploded gloriously into his life in 2007 that he knew he actually wanted to be a cricket person. Sort of ...

South Africa Jury

Luke Alfred
Sports editor of the Sunday Times in Johannesburg; author of Lifting the Covers: the Inside Story of South African Cricket and Testing Times: The Story of the Men Who Made SA Cricket
XI: Smith, Richards, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, S Pollock, Goddard, Tayfield, Donald
Ali Bacher
Ali Bacher
Captained South Africa in 1970, when they defeated Australia 4-0; was managing director of the South African cricket board through the 1990s, and executive director of the 2003 World Cup.
XI: Richards, Mitchell, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, Tayfield, Donald, Adcock
Colin Bryden
Colin Bryden
Editor of the Mutual & Federal SA Cricket Annual; has reported on more than 130 Test matches.
XI: Richards, Barlow, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, Tayfield, Donald, Adcock
Archie Henderson
Archie Henderson
Sports editor of the Times in South Africa; formerly sports editor of the Cape Times and the Argus in Cape Town. Has been a journalist since 1967.
XI: Richards, Smith, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Procter, Lindsay, Tayfield, Donald, Adcock
Rob Houwing
Rob Houwing
Chief writer for and formerly editor of the Wisden Cricketer (South African edition).
XI: Richards, Smith, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Barlow, Procter, Boucher, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Rudi Koertzen
Rudi Koertzen
Has umpired at Test level for 17 years - seven of those on the ICC's elite panel - standing in over 100 Tests (the second umpire to do so) and 200 ODIs.
XI: Richards, Mitchell, Barlow, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp
Broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency; has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to International cricket. Author of a biography of Gary Kirsten.
XI: Richards, Smith, Nourse, G Pollock, Kallis, Barlow, Boucher, Faulkner, Procter, S Pollock, Donald
Krish Reddy
One of South Africa's foremost cricket historians and statisticians, and a cricket book and autograph collector; co-author of a history of South African cricket with Andre Odendaal and Christopher Merritt.
XI: Richards, Taylor, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Procter, Cameron, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Andrew Samson
Andrew Samson
Cricket South Africa's official statistician since 1994; has covered over 130 Test matches for radio and TV as scorer/statistician.
XI: Richards, Mitchell, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Telford Vice
Telford Vice
Cricket writer since 1992, when he covered South Africa's first Test on readmission, in Barbados; author of a biography of Peter Kirsten.
XI: Richards, Smith, Goddard, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Boucher, S Pollock, Tayfield, Ntini, Donald

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