The all-time XI for all time: South Africa

South Africa’s all-time XI had some interesting decisions behind them. A slew of all-rounders throughout the country’s history as well as some celebrated names missed out due to apartheid.

Those missing decades of the 1970s and 1980s have resulted in the 20-year blocks being split, meaning one player will be taken from each of the following eras: 1877-99, 1900-09, 1910-19, 1920-29, 1930-39, 1940-49, 1950-59, 1960-70, 1990-99, 2000-09 and 2010-19.

Bruce Mitchell (1930-39)

27 Tests, 2148 runs at 47.73, 22 wickets at 49.13

A mainstay in the South African side for two decades, Bruce Mitchell didn’t miss a single Test during his career and retired as the Springboks (as they were then known) player to have scored the most runs before the nation’s international exile.

Scoring 88 and 61 not out on his debut, Mitchell often suffered through a weak batting line-up that resulted in him needing to drop anchor to prevent collapse. His first century, 123 against England in Cape Town in 1931, was part of a longstanding South Africa record opening partnership of 260, and his finest hour came four years later when his 164 not out at Lord’s led his country to their first win in England, while his series average of 69.71 was his finest return. Mitchell was also a useful slow leg spinner and against Australia in 1935-36 bowled a remarkable spell in which he took 4-5, including three wickets in an over to winkle out the tail.

As with many cricketers of the time, World War II interrupted his career, and he saw service in East Africa, El Alamein and Italy before returning in triumph in two series against England before being controversially dropped for the 1949-50 series against Australia, prompting his retirement.

Honourable mentions

Dudley Nourse: 14 Tests, 1097 runs at 49.86.

Jock Cameron: 17 Tests, 816 runs at 30.22, 23 catches, ten stumpings.

Herbie Taylor (1920-29)

21 Tests, 1612 runs at 46.05

Herbie Taylor first came to prominence as a batter of repute when he averaged 50.80 while captaining against England and a rampant Sydney Barnes in 1913-14, the last Test series before World War I. Upon cricket’s resumption Taylor continued where he had left off, scoring three centuries against England in 1922-23 and averaging 64.66 in total. A nimble batter whose best feature was his footwork and ability to keep a straight bat, Taylor captained South Africa through their nadir tour of 1924 before relinquishing the role and playing solely as a batter for the remainder of his career. He remained a consistent run-scorer, averaging 55.25 against England to close out the decade, and retired as South Africa’s leading run-scorer and with the most centuries for the country, both records that were eclipsed by Bruce Mitchell later.

Honourable mentions

Bob Catterall: 20 Tests, 1378 runs at 40.52.

Jimmy Blanckenburg: 13 Tests, 351 runs at 18.47, 41 wickets at 33.87.

Graeme Pollock (1960-70)

23 Tests, 2256 runs at 60.97, four wickets at 51.00

Heading into their international exile, South Africa were arguably the best team in the world, and Graeme Pollock’s batting was a large reason for this. The youngest South African to score a Test century with 122 in the 1963-64 Sydney Test, a record that still stands, Pollock began as he meant to go on, never averaging less than 48.50 in a full series. Deft of foot and heavy of power, perhaps his finest innings was 125 of 162 scored while he was at the crease at Trent Bridge in 1965, while he dominated Australia in his final two series, scoring over 500 runs and averaging over 70 in both.

Pollock’s 274 in the 1970 Durban Test stood as South Africa’s highest score for 29 years, and he continued playing well into his 40s, whether it be for Rest of the World XIs against Australia or England or the rebel tours of the 1980s, when he showed he had lost none of his skill. In 2008 Pollock was named South Africa’s player of the century.

Honourable mentions

Peter Pollock: 28 Tests, 116 wickets at 24.18.

Trevor Goddard: 26 Tests, 1664 runs at 36.97, 76 wickets at 25.14.

Eddie Barlow: 30 Tests, 2516 runs at 45.74, 40 wickets at 34.05.

Denis Lindsay: 19 Tests, 1130 runs at 37.66, 57 catches, two stumpings.

South African batsman Graeme Pollock

(Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Dudley Nourse (captain) (1940-49)

12 Tests, 1372 runs at 68.60

Dudley Nourse had a self-taught technique despite his father being one of South Africa’s most renowned players – Dave Nourse chose to let his son teach himself, just as he had done years earlier. The younger Nourse proved to be a willing student, making his debut in 1935 and against Australia setting a record as the only player to score a duck in the first innings and a double century in the second.

In 1947, after serving in World War II, Nourse toured England and led the team’s averages with 621 runs at 69.00 before being appointed captain for the home series in 1948-49. He again scored two centuries and led the team’s averages once more. His finest hour as a Test cricketer came in his last series, making 208 against England in 1951 with a broken thumb and inspiring South Africa’s first Test victory since 1935. Nourse ended his career with the highest average of any South African batter, and only Graeme Pollock and Jacques Kallis have bettered him among players to have appeared in more than 20 Tests.

Honourable mentions

Bruce Mitchell: ten Tests, 1072 runs at 59.55.

Norm Mann: 12 Tests, 40 wickets at 31.32.

Dave Nourse (1900-09)

11 Tests, 531 runs at 37.92, 11 wickets at 16.27

From his debut to retirement, Arthur William ‘Dave’ Nourse played 45 straight Tests as a left-handed batter who placed a premium on his wicket and useful seam bowler. He made his debut in 1902 against Australia and generally acquitted himself well with bat or ball. His best performance came against England in 1905-06 when he averaged 48.16 with the bat and 12.83 with the ball, taking six wickets across the five Tests in a 4-1 series victory. The first Test saw Nourse’s signature performance, scoring 93 not out from No. 8 to guide South Africa to a one-wicket victory, their first in Test cricket.

Nourse was generally consistent, only once in his career not passing 50 at any point in a series, and holds the record as the oldest player to score a maiden century, achieving the feat against Australia in 1921. He continued in first-class cricket until he was 57, earning the nickname the ‘Grand Old Man of South Africa”, and played alongside his son Dudley in his last years.

Honourable mentions

Jimmy Sinclair: 11 Tests, 513 runs at 27.00, 34 wickets at 28.58.

Reggie Schwarz: 8 Tests, 27 wickets at 18.59.

AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper) (2010-19)

60 Tests, 5059 runs at 57.48, 146 catches, four stumpings

An electric player whether at the crease or behind the stumps, AB de Villiers had command of the entire field throughout his career, capable of hitting the ball with a 360-degree range no matter the format or match situation. Making his Test debut in 2004, De Villiers had already proven his wares by the time the 2010s rolled around, and he wasted little time in cementing his reputation with a monumental 278 not out against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi followed by a 129 against India a month later at a rate of better than a run a ball.

He was as capable of putting on the brakes just as effectively as he was at hitting the accelerator – his 33 from 246 balls did more than most to ensure a draw with Australia in Adelaide in 2012. De Villiers’s favourite opponents were Pakistan and West Indies. He averaged over 100 against both countries in this period, including back-to-back series against Pakistan at home and away, averaging 88 and 91. Even at the end of his career he was capable of the extraordinary, scoring an unbeaten 126 against Australia in Gqeberha to set up a six-wicket win. At the end of the series De Villiers retired from all international cricket.

Honourable mentions

Hashim Amla: 85 Tests, 6695 runs at 49.96.

Vernon Philander: 61 Tests, 1700 runs at 24.63, 220 wickets at 21.99.

Dale Steyn: 59 Tests, 267 wickets at 22.29.

Morne Morkel: 67 Tests, 248 wickets at 25.99.

AB De Villiers bats on day 1 of the 4th Sunfoil Test in 2018

(Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Aubrey Faulkner (1910-19)

16 Tests, 1470 runs at 50.72, 56 wickets at 28.62

In the history of Test cricket, only one man has averaged over 40 with the bat and under 30 with the ball with a qualification of 1000 runs and 50 wickets. Aubrey Faulkner is that man. Having debuted in 1906 and been part of the famed quartet of ‘bosie’ bowlers of the 1907 England tour, Faulkner ascended to the status of finest cricketer in the world by averaging 60.55 with the bat and 21.89 with the ball against England in 1910 in a 3-2 series win. Against Australia the following summer Faulkner’s hard-hitting batting was at its apogee, scoring 732 runs in the series – still a South African record – including 204 in Melbourne and then 115 in Adelaide to inspire South Africa’s first win over Australia.

His bowling form dipped somewhat, and Faulkner’s efforts in the Triangular Tournament of 1912 were notable only for his career-best innings figures of 7-84. After World War I he set up a cricketing school in England that would go on to coach several Test cricketers of the future, and in 1921 he was called up by Archie MacLaren when well out of first-class cricket in order to defeat the heretofore unbeaten Australian tourists, and his innings of 153 was his finest exhibition on English soil.

Honourable mentions

Dave Nourse: 21 Tests, 981 runs at 25.15, 25 wickets at 37.36.

Bert Vogler: 7 Tests, 40 wickets at 23.97.

Jimmy Sinclair (1877-99)

Five Tests, 303 runs at 30.30, 17 wickets at 19.52

South Africa’s early days in Test cricket were fraught, with only a handful of matches with England in the 19th century and no-one playing more than five matches. Of those, Jimmy Sinclair was South Africa’s first star, a hard-hitting batter who scored South Africa’s first three Test centuries and a bustling fast bowler who had a classical high action. In Sinclair’s second Test he opened the batting and became the first South African to reach the heights of scoring 30 runs in an innings, and he was second in the batting averages of players who played in each match for the team.

The following series was where Sinclair’s potential started to shine through, as he became the first player to score a century and take five wickets in an innings in the same match, with 106 out of 177 following 6-26 when bowling.

Following the Boer War and the turn of the century, Sinclair’s most famous series with the bat came against Australia when he scored two centuries, including one in approximately 80 minutes, which was second only to Gilbert Jessop at that time. The rest of his career saw a decline in effectiveness as South Africa started to rely on their spin bowlers, and Sinclair passed at the young age of 36 after a long illness.

Honourable mention

Bonnor Middleton: 4 Tests, 23 wickets at 16.13.

Shaun Pollock (2000-09)

70 Tests, 2377 runs at 32.56, 260 wickets at 24.76

With South African cricket reeling from the Hansie Cronje revelations, Shaun Pollock was deputised to lead the country out of the morass. A naggingly accurate fast bowler and combative batter, by the time he took the captaincy Pollock had already proven himself a world-standard all-rounder, with 175 wickets and a steady average hovering at the 30 mark. With father Peter providing the fast bowling pedigree and uncle Graeme the batting skills, he had a creditable start to his captaincy career highlighted by 6-30 and 111 from No. 9 in successive Tests against Sri Lanka before the 2003 World Cup debacle saw him stripped of the role. However, this did not diminish his skills, and for a 12-month period in 2002-03 he averaged 59.77 with the bat and 20.36 with the ball. In time Pollock’s pace and effectiveness lessened, but he fittingly became the first South African to take 400 Test wickets before retiring in 2008 and signing off with five wickets against West Indies.

Honourable mentions

Graeme Smith: 78 Tests, 6439 runs at 50.30.

Jacques Kallis: 100 Tests, 8547 runs at 58.54, 204 wickets at 31.97.

Mark Boucher: 103 Tests, 4007 runs at 30.35, 363 catches, 20 stumpings.

Makhaya Ntini: 97 Tests, 380 wickets at 28.64.

South African batsman Shaun Pollock in 2007.

(Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Hugh Tayfield (1950-59)

30 Tests, 674 runs at 16.85, 153 wickets at 24.09

A parsimonious off spinner who relied on subtle variations and drift for his successes, Hugh Tayfield conceded fewer than two runs an over throughout his career. He first came to prominence during the 1949-50 season when he replaced the injured Athol Rowan and took 7-23 against the touring Australian side before his 30 wickets at 28.10 were a key factor in South Africa drawing the 1952-53 series against the same opponents. In 1955 Tayfield took 26 wickets and became the first South African to reach 100 Test wickets, being named a Wisden cricketer of the year as a result, before 37 at home against England in 1956-57.

Among these wickets was 9-113 in Johannesburg, where he bowled unchanged on the final day to push South Africa towards a 17-run victory. Tayfield caught the other wicket, and Wisden named this innings as the top-rated bowling performance of the 20th century. Earlier in the series Tayfield had bowled 137 consecutive deliveries without conceding a run as part of match figures of 9/90 off 61.7 overs, with eight-ball overs the South African standard at the time. These were his last triumphs, as Tayfield retained his thriftiness but not penetration against Australia and bowed out after a disappointing series in England in 1960.

Honourable mentions

Jackie McGlew: 24 Tests, 1825 runs at 43.45.

Neil Adcock: 19 Tests, 69 wickets at 21.15.

Allan Donald (1990-99)

59 Tests, 532 runs at 11.08, 284 wickets at 21.83

One of the men most responsible for South Africa’s successes upon readmission to international cricket, Allan Donald was a blisteringly fast bowler who led the team’s attack throughout the decade. In South Africa’s return Test, Donald took six wickets, before 20 wickets in his first full series, including his career-best 12-139 against India in 1992-93. In every Test match Donald played in the 1990s he took at least one wicket, and his supporting role to Fanie de Villiers in the 1993-94 Sydney Test is often forgotten.

The definitive image of Donald is his absorbing duel with Mike Atherton at Nottingham in 1998, when Atheron did not walk for a glove behind and Donald peppered him with bumpers for close to an hour. He took 33 wickets in the series and 23 in the following series against West Indies before the exertions of the decade began to catch up with him and he retired after being carted around by Australia in Johannesburg in 2002 and injuring his hamstring.

Honourable mentions

Gary Kirsten: 56 Tests, 3792 runs at 41.67.

Darryl Cullinan: 53 Tests, 3354 runs at 42.45.

Hansie Cronje: 64 Tests, 3689 runs at 38.03, 37 wickets at 32.02.

Jacques Kallis: 32 Tests, 1849 runs at 41.08, 53 wickets at 28.45.

Shaun Pollock: 38 Tests, 1404 runs at 31.90, 161 wickets at 20.45.

Next up is the fourth team to play Test cricket with one of the most fearsome bowling attacks of this exercise.

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