The XI December 18, 2009

A meeting of past and present

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

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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