Picking The Best South African Test XI Of All-Time

Graeme Smith captains the best South African test match XI of all-time.

Choosing The Best South African Test XI

Have you ever wondered about the best South African test XI that you could assemble, only including players post 1992?

South Africa has been a major force in international cricket post readmission. In test cricket especially, they ruled the decade between 2006 and 2015, not losing a single series away from home and only losing at home to Australia.

Recently, they have struggled due to the retirements of key players, transformation targets and injuries. However, they have a chance to rectify their form against both Sri Lanka and Australia at home. Sandwiched in between those two series is a historic visit to Pakistan.

So, do any current players get into the best South African test XI of all-time and if not, then who makes the list?

The Openers

Graeme Smith (C) and Gary Kirsten

Graeme Smith of South Africa pulls a delivery for runs past Ian Bell of England during his innings of 154 not out in the 3rd Test match between England and South Africa at Edgbaston, Birmingham, 2nd August 2008. South Africa won the match by 5 wickets. (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Graeme Smith and Gary Kirsten were two solid opening batsmen for South Africa. Kirsten was one of the first world-class batsmen that South Africa had, post readmission in 1992. Gary Kirsten played 101 test matches and scored over 7000 runs for South Africa. He was assured against pace bowling and the moving ball. However, he was majestic against spin-bowling, especially in the subcontinent.

Gary Kirsten averaged 52 with the bat in India and 88 with the bat in Pakistan. In these two countries, he scored exactly 1,000 runs combined, including four centuries. He helped South Africa win a test series in both India and Pakistan in 1999/00 and 1997/98 respectively. He also averaged above 40 in England, Australia and at home.

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Graeme Smith is arguably the best opening batsman of his time and of all-time. He scored runs in all conditions and captained South Africa at the same time to a record number of victories. He will also captain the best South African test XI.

Smith scored over 9000 test match runs at an average of above 48, including 27 test match centuries. He averaged above 50 in England, UAE, West Indies and New Zealand. He also averaged 36 in India and 39 in Australia respectively. A great batsman against seam and swing movement and adept versus both pace and spin.

The Middle-Order

Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers

South African batsman Jacques Kallis raises his bat and helmet as he celebrates scoring a century (100 runs) on January 03, 2010 during the first day of the third Test match between South Africa and England at Newland’s cricket stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images)

Hashim Amla has a fantastic test match record. It probably looks a lot worse now because his form declined massively in his last few years. He averaged below 30 in three of his last five years as a test cricketer. Consequently, his average dropped from above 50 to 46.64.

However, this is still a solid record, especially while batting at number 3 in South Africa for a lot of his career. South Africa is no easy place to bat at any given position. In his peak, he was a world-beater, hungry for runs like few others before him and since. He guarded South Africa’s middle-order for a number of years.

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Amla has an exceptional average of above 60 in both England and India. He excelled on two tours – England in 2012 and India in 2010 and looked impregnable on both of those visits. South Africa won 2-0 in England in 2012 and drew 1-1 in India in 2010. He also averages 78 in the UAE and 45 in Australia.

Jacques Kallis is undoubtedly South Africa’s best ever batsmen in test cricket and their best ever player as well. He makes a strong case for being even the greatest all-rounder of all-time. He averaged 55 as a batsmen in test cricket. Had he done nothing else, he would be a superstar.

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But Kallis also picked up nearly 300 test match wickets and took nearly 200 catches. He was a superb player of spin – averaging 58 in India, 56 in the UAE and 83 in Pakistan. Equally effective against pace too, Kallis averaged above 50 at home, in New Zealand, and in the West Indies.

The linchpin amongst batsmen in the best South African test XI of all-time. He was recently inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame.

AB De Villiers is widely regarded as Mr 360 and a limited-overs genius. However, he averages above 50 in test match cricket. At one point in time, he was the number one test batsmen and the number one ODI batsmen. His versatility is unmatched. AB De Villiers could block and score 43 of 297 as he did versus India in 2015 or score a quite scintillating 169 of 184 balls as he did against Australia in 2012.

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He was also a superb fielder and wicket keeper when he was asked to the job. He captained the side as well for a number of years. AB De Villiers averages above 40 in every single country that is a major test nation. His best averages are 117 in the UAE and 55 in England.

The Wicketkeeper

Quinton De Kock (WK)

Quinton De Kock is the only current player to make it into the best South African test XI of all-time.
HOBART, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 14: Quinton de Kock of South Africa bats during day three of the Second Test match between Australia and South Africa at Blundstone Arena on November 14, 2016 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Quinton De Kock edges out Mark Boucher as our wicket keeper in this team. Boucher is perhaps the better gloveman, although De Kock is pretty safe behind the stumps as well.

However, the game-changing abilities that Quinton De Kock possesses with the bat trumps that of Mark Boucher, who was more of a steely batsman. De Kock can play in almost limited-overs mode and change the course of a test match in a session. This is well backed-up by his strike rate of 70.96.

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De Kock has combined with Temba Bavuma multiple times and counterattacked quite beautifully to change the course of the game. Examples include Centurion, Perth 2016, Hobart 2016 and Wellington 2017.

De Kock has scored nearly 3000 runs in the format, at a batting average of nearly 40. These are very good numbers for a player batting at number 7.

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The Bowling All-Rounders

Shaun Pollock and Vernon Philander

South African bowler Vernon Philander celebrates the dismissal of Indian batsman Ravichandran Ashwin (not in picture) during the fourth day of the first Test cricket match between South Africa and India at Newlands cricket ground on January 8, 2018 in Cape Town. / AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images)

Two similar yet superb bowlers in our best South African test XI of all-time.

Vernon Philander and Shaun Pollock are the two bowling all-rounders in this test team. Philander is almost unplayable, given any help in the conditions. His record in SENA ( South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand) is very strong and he has done alright in the UAE as well.

Philander averages 19 with the ball in South Africa, 24 in England, 23 in New Zealand and 30 in Australia. His average of 23 in the UAE is also good. Philander is also a very good batsman. He averages 24 with the bat in test match cricket.

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Shaun Pollock formed one half of an awesome bowling partnership with Allan Donald. Pollock was a master at bowling in the subcontinent – his record in Asia is very strong. Pollock averaged 27 in India, 23 in Pakistan, 25 in Sri Lanka and 11 in Bangladesh.

He was also a superb batsman as well. His test average of 32 is amazing for someone batting as low as he did at times. Pollock could bat anywhere from number 6 to number 11 but was best used lower down the order as someone who could counterattack with the tail.

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The Bowlers

Dale Steyn, Allan Donald and Paul Adams

South African bowler Dale Steyn (C) appeals to the umpire for a decision against Sri Lankan batsman Lahiru Thirimanne (R) during the first day of the first Test cricket match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at The Kingsmead Stadium in Durban on February 13, 2019. (Photo by Anesh DEBIKY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANESH DEBIKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Dale Steyn is perhaps amongst the best bowlers of all-time in test match cricket. His strike rate is the best for any test bowler who has taken over 200 wickets. He also has the most wickets for any bowler in Asia, along with the best strike rate.

In his pomp, watching Dale Steyn run in with the red ball was a sight to behold. He had an almost unplayable outswinger and could also reverse swing the ball back in, as he did against India at Nagpur in 2010. He caused havoc in that innings, taking 7-51, as India lost by an innings against South Africa.

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Steyn has helped South Africa win test series away against Australia and England twice. Plus, they have won in Pakistan, in Sri Lanka, in Bangladesh, in the West Indies and in New Zealand. The only country they could not win in with Steyn, was India. However, they drew both series 1-1 that he was a part of.

Paul Adams is the only spin bowler in the side. South Africa have not produced many world-class spinners since Hugh Tayfield. Keshav Maharaj is perhaps unlucky to miss out. In 45 test matches, Adams took 134 wickets. He particularly prospered with the ball in India, taking 14 wickets at 20.29. He did a great holding job in South Africa as well.

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Allan Donald or “white lightning” remains one of the best bowlers in the history of cricket. His test and ODI records are superb and he was the first South African bowler to reach 300 test match wickets. Donald’s pace and ability to move the ball places him right at the top of the pantheon of fast bowlers that played during the 1990’s.

He spearheaded South Africa’s test series wins in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Like Pollock, Donald was excellent in the subcontinent. Allan Donald averaged 16 with the ball in India and 19 in Sri Lanka. He picked up 17 and 12 wickets respectively in those two countries.

What’s your best South African test match XI of all-time?

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