In the first instalment of a two-part series, SA Cricket magazine’s writers pick their best international Test XI of the past 30 years.
Over the past few weeks, the SA Cricket magazine writers have picked their best Proteas side of the post-isolation era. That process got us thinking – how many of those South African stars would crack the nod in a best international XI selected in the same era (1992 to 2020)?
Over the next few days, we’ll be selecting our best international Test and ODI combinations. Let us know what you think of the selections and what changes you’d make.
JON CARDINELLI: I’m backing two enforcers at the top of the order. Matthew Hayden was known for his belligerent exploits against the new ball. Career stats of 30 centuries as well as a high score of 380 highlight the burly southpaw’s ability to crack on and convert a start. Hayden was consistently dominant for one of the great Australian sides, as his average of 50.73 indicates.
Graeme Smith – who captains this team as there’s no room for Steve Waugh in the middle order – was less explosive yet boasted a similarly combative mindset. Like all great batsmen, Smith played some of his best innings under pressure and actually averaged more (54.98) overseas than he did in South Africa.
Do I really need to explain the selections of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting, four of the all-time greats? Each of these batsmen had their own style, and Kallis in particular was a master at pacing his innings and wearing an opponent down. All four had the ability to adapt and their career stats are testament to the fact that they dominated at home and abroad.
It was tough to leave out Waugh, Rahul Dravid, and a couple more who have made their mark over the past decade. Indeed, if Virat Kohli and Steve Smith maintain their current course, they may well finish their careers among the all-time greats. Kohli (86 Tests) and Smith (73) have already scored 27 and 26 centuries respectively. To put things into perspective, Alastair Cook – who played 161 Tests for England – has scored 33 tons.
WADE PRETORIUS: For clarity sake, I won’t be picking any South Africans … that said, I would only be including Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn in my World XI. But now, I’m going Saffa-less here and then lining up my all-time Proteas side against this one.
Boring intro over … I’m opening with Matthew Hayden and … Sachin Tendulkar. A bit of a risk bringing in the ‘Little Maestro’ to face the new ball but he did it enough in limited overs stuff so it’s a calculated gamble considering he is the leading run scorer in the game. His opening partner is ‘Haydos’ – no, not you Morne Morkel, who was a colossal figure not only because of his imposing stature but for his weight of runs in cricket’s toughest batting position. If you are an Aussie great, you are on the fast track to making any all-time XI.
In at three is Brian Lara, what with his brilliant shot-making expertise and penchant for really big scores, and I will keep the left-right combinations going with Ricky Ponting next in. ‘Punter’ was a fine player and one who made many aspiring cricketers work even harder on their technique against the short ball. In the mould of Australia’s never back down cricketers, Ponting was second only to Tendulkar in weight of runs
Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara comes in at the fall of the next wicket. And if you are raising your eyebrows at this choice, then have a look at his Test average compared to the batters above him. Mic dropped, as they say.
At six, I have the freedom to pick just about anyone – none of my top five average under 50 so a batting collapse is unlikely – and it leaves me with old vs young – Rahul Dravid, Steve Waugh and Kevin Pietersen vs Virat Kohli and Steve Smith. I’m biased towards an expansive batsman so the first two on the list fall away. Comparing KP’s numbers to Kohli and Smith and he comes up short. Unplayable at times yes and a major force in making England into the competitive outfit yes, but he has already been passed in hundreds made and his average is lower.
Okay, decision time … it’s Steve Smith in at No 6. His average is a frightening 62.84 compared to Kohli’s 53.62 and has one century less despite playing 13 fewer Test matches. Both have a long way to go in there careers and I’m not making a case that Smith will end above Kohli when all is said and done but for now, I’m picking the Australian.
CRAIG LEWIS: With a Test average of 50, powerful Matthew Hayden just sneaks in as an opener ahead of Graeme Smith for me. I’m going to pair the powerful left-hander with ‘The Wall’ Rahul Dravid.
I know this means I’m playing Dravid out of position, but he did occasionally fill in as an opener, and I’ve just got to find a way to include him when you consider how many other superstars are to follow.
For me, it’s Jacques Kallis at 3, Sachin Tendulkar at 4 and Ricky Ponting at 5, followed by another legend in Brian Lara, who should be batting higher, but it’s almost impossible to accommodate everyone in their preferred position.
JONHENRY WILSON: Alastair Cook to open the batting alongside Sachin Tendulkar, followed by Ricky Ponting in at three and Rahul Dravid four. Jacques Kallis in at five and Kumar Sangakkara at six. The selection of Sangakkara leaves the wicketkeeper berth in the top six – and space for at least two genuine all-rounders in the bottom five. Cook’s selection might raise some eyebrows, but compare this modern-day great’s numbers to some of yesteryear’s heroes and the choice is vindicated.
ANDRE HUISAMEN: You won’t get more class for an opening pair in Test cricket than Graeme Smith and Sachin Tendulkar. Smith might often get overlooked for one of the best cricketers to play in this format but to rank him alongside someone like Tendulkar shows how much I rated him. Tendulkar, though, needs to introduction or explanation. In fact he’ll probably be able to bat at any position in my Test XI but I’d prefer him at the top, especially for a left-hand right-hand combination.
I’m also going to go with Rahul Dravid in my team and he will take up No3 in the batting order. Dravid oozed class in his stellar career. He was one of the most prolific Test cricketers of my generation and was a tough costumer to get out. Australia’s Ricky Ponting comes in at No4 and also needs no justification for a Test selection. Ponting was one of the great Test captains to ever grace the game and also made scoring runs look fairly easy.
Jacques Kallis is my definite pick to come in at 5, although also more than capable to bat at any spot in the middle order. Kallis’ all-round ability changed South African cricket and set the precedent for future all-rounders all across the world. And, those attributes were and still are most visible in the Test format. Kallis always delivered in some way or another and could change a game in a flash, with both bat and ball. Although not normally the place where he batted, Brian Charles Lara completes my top six. The West Indian is regarded as one of the best ever in to play red-ball cricket and I think if you’re capable of making 400 in a single Test innings then that tag is definitely worth it. Lara could literally bat for ages and was also not an easy player to dismiss.