South Africa v England, 2004-05 January 26, 2005

A few surprises in an unpredictable tour

By the end of an incredible five Tests in six weeks, there was hardly a player on either side who had not been baked half to death by the unrelenting itinerary. Andrew Miller - who witnessed the ups, downs, lefts and rights of an astonishingly unpredictable tour - runs the rule over South Africa's players:

8 - Jacques Kallis

Jacques Kallis: 'An admirable cricketer, but an utterly unlovable one' © Getty Images
Breathtaking statistics from a, well, statistical point of view. But the lingering suspicion that Kallis plays solely for himself was writ large across his final-day performance when, having created the most solid platform imaginable, he simply refused to carry the attack to England's bowlers in the manner that we all know he can. At Durban and Cape Town, he had played in the knowledge that his wicket was of paramount importance, for there was little of substance to come but, by the Centurion Test, South Africa's selectors had wised up, and with men of the calibre of Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher lurking in the middle order Kallis's reticence was mystifying. An admirable cricketer, but an utterly unlovable one.

8 - Charl Langeveldt
Played just the one Test, but Langeveldt gets an extra mark both for his demolition of England in their warm-up at Potchefstroom, and for bowling South Africa to victory at Cape Town despite the pain of a broken hand. After their pumped-up, fight-fire-with-fire attitude in the opening rounds of the series, it took a thirtysomething debutant to remind South Africa of the virtues of line and length, and most of all, patience. As Hoggard later demonstrated, Langeveldt's absence at Johannesburg proved to be critical.

8 - Makhaya Ntini
All the best opening partnerships have involved a measure of contrast, and the Pollock-Ntini alliance is no exception. Where Pollock is all guile, Ntini is pure rampage - an indefatigable gallop to the wicket and a limb-flailing launch, which more often than not gets its rewards. Until Andre Nel appeared for the final Test, Ntini and Pollock shouldered an incredible burden, and did so unstintingly as well. They deserved better.

8 - Shaun Pollock
A constant menace, as an incredible economy rate of 2.26 would imply. Andrew Strauss likened him to a bowling machine, but that would be doing his guile a disservice. Bowled more overs than anyone else on either side (although Ntini finished just four balls behind him) and was as much of a handful in those desperate final moments at Centurion as he had been at any other stage of the series. His batting was less visibly effective, although seeing that he was often as low as No. 9, that is unsurprising. He showed his true colours at Durban, however - a first-innings 43 to set up what must have seemed like a victory, and a second-innings 35 to stave off the prospect of a devastating defeat.

8 - AB de Villiers

AB de Villiers: incredible self-belief for one so young © Getty Images
Incredible self-belief for one so young, especially one who was mucked around by the selectors so dramatically all series. Began and ended as an opener, but in between he took over the wicketkeeping duties and also propped up the middle order. Impetuosity got the better of him in the early stages of the series - and again in the first innings at Centurion, when he was dismissed sweeping for 92 - although he made impressive amends second time around. But, for all the brilliance of that Man-of-the-Match performance, nothing could compare to his backs-to-the-wall half-century at Durban. He has all the talent in the world, and is here to stay.

7 - Herschelle Gibbs
Took a while to settle back into the side after a very public chastisement from his new coach, Ray Jennings, and he nearly blew it all over again when he was fined his entire match fee for a late-night indiscretion at Cape Town. But Gibbs works best when he is left to his own devices, and his breathtaking batting at Johannesburg demonstrated just that, as he came agonisingly close to a century in both innings. Class is permanent, as the man himself would say.

7 - Andre Nel
Misses out on the extra mark simply because he was unable to square the series, but Nel's in-your-face attitude masked a skilful performance that deserved better rewards. By his own admission, he has grown as a person and a cricketer since his back injury last year, although he still remains the man the crowds love to hate. His good-natured aggression is, however, good for the game.

6 - Mark Boucher
His omission was such a talking point at the start of the series that he seems to have been present throughout, rather than just for the final two matches. His first innings back was a gritty 64, a two-fingered salute of a performance, but he had no answer to Hoggard's perfect delivery that deceived him in the second innings at Jo'burg. South Africa is stronger for his presence.

6 - Jacques Rudolph

Jacques Rudolph: became more and more anonymous as the series progressed © Getty Images
Unable to build on his 93 in the first Test, Rudolph became more and more anonymous as the series progressed. He remains the most secure of the several middle-order batsmen whom Graeme Smith regularly berated for their lack of application, but an eventual average of 30.40 is proof that he was every bit as culpable as his colleagues who didn't last the course.

6 - Nicky Boje
Very much in the modern mould of left-arm spinners, Boje's contributions as a batsman were every bit as vital - if not more so - than his tight but unpenetrative bowling. His late appearance in the team, after an operation to remove his thyroid gland, instantly transformed the balance of the batting, and his quickfire 76 at Cape Town was arguably the decisive performance of the only one-sided match of the series. Constantly derided by Geoff Boycott for his bowling, but his leadership qualities were a further string to his bow.

6 - Graeme Smith
Troubled by Matthew Hoggard throughout, and distracted by the ever-changing dynamics of his squad, Smith was a shadow of the formidable figure who swept all before him in the 2003 series. That's not to say he wasn't still a mighty presence, however, and England were never able to rest easy until he had been removed from the crease - particularly in the second innings of their two victories, at Port Elizabeth and especially at Jo'burg, when his defiant 67 looked for a time as though it might salvage a draw. Deserved better luck with his bowling, especially against Graham Thorpe.

5 - Boeta Dippenaar
In hindsight, Dippenaar's first-Test century was one of the worst things that could have happened to South Africa. He is indisputably one of the game's good guys, and the moment was one that he will cherish, but he has long been considered a soft touch by opponents. His guaranteed presence in the middle order ensured that the selectors were still searching for their best combination as the series reached its climax.

5 - Dale Steyn
Raw and rapid, Steyn was an exciting prospect with which to launch the series, but he was soon discovered to be out of his depth, for the moment at least. He did, however, serve notice of his potential with arguably the finest delivery of the tour, a wicked 90mph legcutter that demolished Michael Vaughan's off stump at Port Elizabeth. Needs some more meat on his bones before he can start to live up to any comparisons with a young Allan Donald.

4 - Hashim Amla
Looked a million dollars in net practice, but seemed out of his depth in the middle. Accidents singled him out and he has time on his side, but South Africa were a stronger side by the time they bit the bullet and cast him aside.

Also played

Andrew Hall
An unfortunate scapegoat after Port Elizabeth, he returned to the side too late to alter the result.

Martin van Jaarsveld
A late replacement at Durban. One impressive innings, but not enough to keep Dippenaar from resuming his duties.

Thami Tsolekile
The unwitting centre of the Boucher storm. Performed admirably and acrobatically in his primary role as a wicketkeeper, but not up to the task with the bat.

Zander de Bruyn
Trumpeted as the next big allrounder, but at Port Elizabeth he looked neither one thing nor the other.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo.