By Partab Ramchand
With the South African team currently in India I thought it would be a good idea to come up with the greatest South African XI. Picking the all time best team is a favourite pastime among followers of the game. And while on the job one thing that stuck me was the number of great players South Africa have produced over the years. It made my task that much tougher. After all South Africa played the first Test in 1889 and even if they were away from the Test scene from 1970 to 1992 the list of outstanding cricketers was so long that I had to first narrow the list down to about 20. This itself gave me a harrowing time. Pruning it down to eleven presented a Herculean effort. And after finalizing the team when I looked at the players left out I reckoned that I could come up with a South African second XI that would be almost as good as the first XI. I shall elaborate as I go on.
Opening the innings would be Barry Richards and Graeme Smith. The right and left combination was one factor that got Smith the nod for I was almost inclined to go in for Herbie Taylor the man who made SF Barnes throw the ball to the ground in frustration by defying him time and again during the 1913-14 series. I shall not say anything about Richards except to say that he was an automatic choice.
The surfeit of opening batsmen means that Gary Kirsten has to come in at No 3 a position he would be familiar with. And to make it three left-handers in the first four we have the peerless Graeme Pollock walking in next. I am sure he would be as automatic a choice as Richards to most cricket followers. Next in the order is Dudley Nourse whose stroke filled batting and a Test average of almost 54 guarantees him a place as the last specialist batsman in the middle order - with apologies to Bruce Mitchell.
Now it is the turn of all-rounders and South Africa have had an array of such cricketers through the years as I shall explain by touching upon the players I had to leave out. But first let us consider those occupying positions No 6 to No 8. Few will argue against the choice of Jacques Kallis. What an awesome all-round record! Nor can there be any doubts as to the choice of Mike Procter at No 7. He was one of the many outstanding players badly affected by the long period of isolation but his record and his dynamism speaks for itself. Shaun Pollock (3000 runs and 400 Test wickets) completes the trio of all-rounders at No 8.
And now a brief note about those utility men who missed out - Aubrey Faulkner, Jimmy Sinclair and Trevor Goddard. What magnificent players all! But they just could not be included. They would however undoubtedly be key members of the second XI and keen to prove a point or two.
Mark Boucher just about scores over John Waite for the side’s wicket keeper and his coming in at No 9 underscores the depth in the batting. Allan Donald is comfortably ahead of Neil Adcock and Peter Pollock when it comes to picking the pace spearhead while the lone specialist spin bowler was perhaps the easiest choice in the eleven. Hugh Tayfield is head and shoulders above anyone else and he would come in at No 10 ahead of Donald in the batting order.
A pretty good team then overall but when you think that the second XI will probably consist of Taylor, Mitchell, Peter Pollock, Adcock, Waite, Faulkner, Sinclair, Goddard, Eddie Barlow, Herschelle Gibbs and Jackie McGlew one can conclude that South Africa has indeed had an embarrassment of riches in their ranks over the years besides producing some of the greatest players the game has seen.