It is often lamented that a generation of very fine South African
cricketers from the late 1970s and '80s never played any international cricket - or, at best, a minuscule amount in the twilight of their careers, after South Africa's readmission to world cricket in 1991. The only international sides that these players took on were the controversial so-called rebel teams from England, West Indies and Australia.
Imagination, however, permits many things that reality does not. So what
if we were to imagine a South African team from that era themselves
rebelling against time, and landing up in the India of 2004 to play a Test
series? Which players would be on that team, and how would they fare? These questions were put to Robin Jackman, the former England player who is now
a familiar face (and voice) in India through his commentary work. He played in South Africa's domestic Currie Cup matches for many years.
"Jackers" took the matter so seriously that he asked to be allowed to ponder the question overnight. The next day he had a team neatly written down in black.
"I'll pick a South African side from the mid-1980s," he said, "so that
we stay within the limits of the exercise as I understand it, and don't
pick any players who played Tests for South Africa in the '70s. Also,
I began my tenure as coach of Western Province in 1985, so I was watching
the domestic scene quite carefully then, and remember a lot of the players
quite well. So here's my team to play India.
"As my openers I'd take Jimmy Cook and Henry Fotheringham. Cook had a
tremendous technique, and made thousands of runs for Somerset on very good
pitches, similar to those you find in India. So he'd play quite well here,
I think. Fotheringham was more workmanlike, but a fine player in his own
right, and a good foil for Cook.
"At No. 3 I'd have to pick the leading batsman of my time in South African
cricket, Peter Kirsten. Peter was an attacking batsman with all the
strokes in the book, and a phenomenal player of spin. Kirsten could also
bowl a bit of offspin, rather like Virender Sehwag in the current Indian
side - always useful as an option. And at 5 I'd have another fine
player of spin, Ken McEwan. Both Peter and Ken had plenty of experience of
English county cricket, and could adapt quickly to any conditions. They'd
enjoy taking on the Indian spinners.
"At No. 4, in between Kirsten and McEwan, I'd pick Allan Lamb. I'm cheating
a little bit, because Lamb played plenty of Tests for England, but I'm
assuming he'd have played for South Africa if he'd been able to. Lamb was
a fine player of the quicks, and he made a lot of runs against the great
West Indies team of the '80s - just the right man to bat at the heart
of the top order.
"At 6 I'm picking Kevin McKenzie, Neil's father. A high-class player, and one of the best hookers of the ball I've ever seen. And at 7 is my allrounder, Clive Rice. A good batsman and a very clever bowler, genuinely quick when he was young. Rice was also a very astute thinker on the game, so he's my captain. And there's not too much trouble over the wicketkeeper. Ray Jennings, the coach of the current team, was the best wicketkeeper in South Africa in his time.
Peter Kirsten: earns a place in the XI for having all the strokes
"Now for the bowlers. At No. 9 would be Garth Le Roux, Imran Khan's
team-mate at Sussex. Big, fast, bustling, aggressive; bowled a lot of
bouncers. Just right as your spearhead. Like a lot of fast bowlers, he
could also hit the ball a long way. And as Le Roux's new-ball partner I'd
pick Stephen Jefferies. If you want to conjure up an image of Jefferies,
think of Irfan Pathan. Jefferies was very like him - similar build, same
sort of pace, big swinger of the ball.
"And the last man would have to be a spinner: the deadly accurate Alan
Kourie, of Transvaal. Kourie was not a big spinner of the ball, but then
you don't have to be on these pitches. It's more important that you put it
in the right places. I reckon he'd give the Indian batsmen some trouble.
"So there you have it," said Jackers, stubbing out his cigarette. "A good
balanced side: six classy batsmen and an allrounder at No. 7; two fine
quicks in Le Roux and Jefferies; Rice at first change, and Kourie as the
spinner, with Kirsten for a little offspin.
"They'd be good enough to give your lot a pretty tough fight."
Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer with Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a writer in Mumbai