Continuing my exploration of the all-time XIs theme with a look at cricketers whose surnames begin with the letter S. This piece spans two and a half centuries, five continents and even mentions one of the great fictional cricketers.
The exploration of the all-time XI theme continues with a look at players whose surnames begin with the letter S. This one was very tough, not because of any difficulty finding players of sufficient standard but because there was a lot overlap in terms of the expertise of the very best players, and balancing the side was a challenge that required compromise, of which more later.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
Andrew Strauss (Middlesex, England). A fine opening bat, and twice an Ashes winning skipper, though I have not given him that role in this side.
Herbert Sutcliffe (Yorkshire, England). 4,555 test runs at 60.73, 2,741 Ashes runs at 66.85.
*Graeme Smith (South Africa). One of the best captains of the modern era, and a top class left handed batter. He was a regular opener, but I believe he would handle first drop superbly as well.
Steven Smith (Australia). First called up on account of his leg spin bowling, he established himself as Australia’s best test batter since Bradman. After serving a ban for cheating (an incident that ruled him out of any leadership responsibilities) he returned to action with twin tons at Edgbaston in 2019.
+Kumar Sangakkara (Surrey, Sri Lanka). One of two serious candidates for the title of best batter his country has ever produced (Jayawardene being the other), and a good keeper as well. Usually I prefer to select a specialist keeper, rather than use a batter to perform this role, but circumstances dictate this selection.
Garry Sobers (Nottinghamshire, West Indies). The most complete cricketer ever to play the game. Devastating batter, left arm bowler of pace, swing, seam and both finger and wrist spin, gun fielder.
Ben Stokes (Durham, England). Attacking left handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler.
Greville Stevens (Middlesex, England). A leg spinning all rounder whose FC averages were the right way round (29 with the bat, 26 with the ball). This slot caused me more grief than any other – with three gun fast bowlers rounding out the order I wanted a spinner, and with Sobers present, neither a left armer of any description, nor a regular off spinner (similar line of attack to Sobers in his wrist spin guise) would be ideal. There were two candidates within these constraints – this chap, and Paul Strang of Zimbabwe, and the latter paid 36 per wicket at test level and over 30 at FC level.
Mitchell Starc (Australia). One of the fastest bowlers in the world at present, and while his highs are not quite up at Mitchell Johnson 2013-14 levels, his lows are nowhere near the depths of 2010-11 Johnson.
Brian Statham (Lancashire, England). One of Lancashire’s greatest ever fast bowlers, and one of the select few to have an end of his home ground named in his honour (James Anderson, also at Old Trafford, is in this club, as are Barbadians Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall).
Dale Steyn (South Africa). The greatest fast bowler of the immediate post McGrath period, and surely a shoo-in for an all time South Africa XI even given their strength in the pace bowling department.
This XI features a super powerful top six, Stokes with full licence to attack and a powerful quartet of bowlers. The pace attack, with the quick version of Sobers arguably fifth choice in that department (behind Steyn, Starc, Statham and Stokes) is awesome, and Stevens plus Sobers in his slower guises should offer sufficient spin to augment that attack. Sangakkara as keeper violates my usual principal of going for the best keeper, but he was good enough to do the job for Sri Lanka on a regular basis.
A multi-faceted section starting with…
THE NUMBER EIGHT SLOT
There were two off spinners who would have their advocates for these position but missed out for reasons of balance: Harbhajan Singh of India and Graeme Swann of England, who each paid a little over 30 a piece for their test wickets and who were both useful lower order batters.
However, had I been willing to ignore considerations of balance I had a raft of top options to pack out the pace battery: Frederick Spofforth, a legend from the early days of test cricket was probably the pick of those I overlooked, but two present day Indians, Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj would have their advocates as well, Peter Siddle of Australia is a quality practitioner if perhaps a notch below the very top bracket, Amar Singh, part of India;s first ever test side, was also indisputably a great fast bowler. John Snow of England was another great pacer who could have had this slot. Olly Stone, the Norfolk born Warwickshire and England pacer who has been plagued by injuries has the ability, but not the proven track record. Barbadian all rounder Franklyn Stephenson, one of only two cricketers to do the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in first class matches in an English season since the reduction of the programme in 1969 (the other, Richard Hadlee, also played for Nottinghamshire) would appeal to some as a number eight.
I was conscious of the merits of all these players when making the call to select Greville Stevens, and my contention is not that he is a better cricketer than them, but that he is a better fit for the team, given the players who already had irrefutable claims for selection.
Bert Sutcliffe, the legendary New Zealand left hander, still holder of the record first class score by a native of that country (385 for Otago vs Canterbury, in a team score of 500 all out, with Canterbury contributing 382 off the bat in their two innings combined), and with a fine test record was a serious candidate for Strauss’ slot as left handed opener.
Among the right handed openers I could find no space for were Andrew Sandham, a member of the 100 first class hundreds club, Virender Sehwag, devastating unless the ball was swinging, when he could look very ordinary, Bobby Simpson of Australia, Michael Slater also of Australia and Alec Stewart of England all had impressive records as right handed opening batters. Arthur Shrewsbury of Nottinghamshire and England, second best 19th century batter behind WG Grace, was another who could have done a fine job in this role. Reg Simpson of Nottinghamshire and England had moments at the top level, including a 156* against Australia which set up a test victory for England, but he was not in the same bracket as the others.
MIDDLE ORDER BATTERS
I start this section by drawing your attention to my all time XI of Smiths, so that I do not have to repeat myself regarding players with that surname. Marlon Samuels and Ramnaresh Sarwan of the West Indies can both count themselves unlucky to have surnames beginning with S – under most other letters they would merit serious consideration. Mahadevan Sathasivam of Sri Lanka has legendary status in his own land, but for a series like this I have to deal in hard facts, so he misses out.
Roy Swetman was a fine keeper in the 1950s, and Herbert Strudwick of Surrey and England made more dismissals in first class cricket than any keepers bar JT Murray of Middlesex and Bob Taylor of Derbyshire, though he often batted number 11, which with Statham and Steyn having ironclad claims for places was problematic.
Darren Stevens’ performances since moving south from Leicestershire to Kent have been outstanding, but he has never played anything other than county cricket.
Maninder Singh of India was a fine bowler, but as a left arm orthodox spinner he overlaps with Sobers, and he was a genuine bunny with the bat. Reggie Schwarz of Middlesex and South Africa missed out, because for all his importance as the guy who learned the googly from its creator Bosanquet and taught it to a number of his South African colleagues he actually used the googly not as part of his bowling armoury but as his stock ball, therefore becoming effectively an off spinner, a less good fit for the XI than a more standard leg spinner. Molly Strano, a consistently successful performer in Australian domestic cricket, and therefore by definition a superb bowler also misses out because she is also an off spinner.
BLASTS FROM THE PAST
Lack of sufficiently concrete records for two players prevented me from considering them: Edward ‘Lumpy’ Stevens, a great bowler of the late 18th century and Heathfield Harman Stephenson, whose performance for the All England XI at the Hyde Park Ground in Sheffield led to the coining of the phrase ‘hat trick’. He dismissed three of his opponents with successive deliveries, and the Sheffield crowd were so impressed by this display of bowling virtuosity that they used a hat to collect money for Stephenson and made him a presentation of both hat and money.
A FICTIONAL TALENT
Tom Spedegue, hero of a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which he pioneers a new type of delivery which descends on the batter from the clouds “Spedegue’s Dropper” and shatters that season’s visiting Australians by taking 15 wickets in what turns out to be his first and only test would certainly have added variety to the attack had he been real.
WHITE BALL TALENTS
Had been selecting with limited overs cricket in mind Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sanju Samson would both have been close to inclusion.
Will Smeed, scorer of the first individual century in The Hundred, is an obvious talent for the future. Glenton Stuurman (pronounced like ‘Steerman’), a young South African quick bowler is very promising, though he has a huge amount to do to come close to dislodging his compatriot Steyn. Sophia Smale, a 17 year old left arm orthodox spinner has announced herself with a couple of fine performances in the Hundred.
Our cricketing journey through the letter S, spanning two and a half centuries and many continents, is at an end, and it remains only to apply the usual sign off…
Inspired by Jamie Smith’s batting at Bristol in the last round of championship games I have selected a team comprised entirely of Smiths (he is twelfth person). Also includes some of my photographs.
This post was inspired by Jamie Smith’s double century for Surrey against Gloucestershire in the last round of county championship fixtures.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
For reasons that will become obvious I am including a twelfth person on this occasion.
Graeme Smith (left handed opening batter) – the South African’s record confirms him as one of the finest openers of the modern era. He was also a candidate for the captaincy which I have awarded instead to his opening partner.
*Mike Smith (MJK Smith, right handed opening batter, captain) – The Warwickshire stalwart averaged over 40 in FC cricket.
Robin Smith (right handed batter) – An excellent player of fast bowling but had the gloss taken off his test record when he was found badly wanting against Shane Warne. Still even with the deleterious effect of Warne on his overall record he finished with a test average of 43.
Steven Smith (right handed batter, occasional leg spinner) – The best test batter of the modern era, and possibly his country’s second best ever behind Donald Bradman.
Collie Smith (right handed batter, occasional off spinner) – killed in a road accident at the age of 26 but he had already achieved plenty of note, including scoring 168 in a test innings and racking up a triple century in a Lancashire League game.
Sydney Smith (left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner) – West Indian born but primarily associated with Northamptonshire. He averaged 31 with the bat and 18 with the ball, figures that would probably equate to 46 and 27 on today’s more batting friendly surfaces. Three years after his arrival at Northamptonshire the county finished second in the championship, a position that they are yet to improve on 110 years later.
+Ian Smith (right handed batter, wicket keeper) – A fine keeper and a good enough bat to have test centuries, including a top score of 173.
‘Big Jim’ Smith (CIJ Smith – right arm fast medium bowler, very aggressive right handed lower order batter) – still holds the record for the quickest 50 scored of genuine bowling, reaching the landmark in 11 minutes (overall innings 66 in 18 minutes). A good enough quick bowler to be selected for England at his peak.
Peter Smith (leg spinner, attacking lower order batter) – his most famous performance came with the bat, for Essex against Derbyshire, when he came in at number 11 and proceeded to smash 163 out of a last wicket stand of 218. That innings helped him to achieve the season’s double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in first class matches for the first time in his career.
Haydon Smith (right arm fast bowler, right handed tailender) – the Leicestershire quick will form a useful new ball pairing with ‘Big Jim’ in this team.
‘Razor’ Smith (off spinner, right handed tail ender) – over 1,000 FC wickets at 17.55 a piece. The Surrey and London County player completes a highly dangerous spin trio who all do different things with the ball (of the three Peter Smith the leg spinner is probably the least threatening, but even he took his FC wickets at 26.55 a piece.
Jamie Smith (right handed batter, wicket keeper). The inspiration for this post. His double century at Bristol took his FC average north of 40, but he is not his county’s first choice keeper and I could not leave out Collie Smith to get him into the 11, so for the moment he is twelfthy for this team.
A LOOK AT THE XI
The team has a very strong top five, a genuine all rounder at six, an excellent keeper/ batter at seven, two useful hitters at eight and nine and only two out and out tailenders. The bowling his excellent variety, although it is short in the pace department. I would expect this team to give a good account of itself on most surfaces (only on a green seamer might they be in trouble).
Given the lack of pace bowling I will start with that department. Gloucestershire left armer Mike Smith did not have a good enough record to merit selection, though he was a good county bowler. Warwickshire all rounder Paul Smith, who bowled fast medium, could only have been accommodated had I left out one of Collie or Sydney Smith, and I did not feel that I could drop either to make way for him.
There were two wicket keeping candidates other than Ian Smith, both with Warwickshire connections – ‘Tiger’ Smith and Alan Smith.
Off spinner Neil Smith, for all that he was briefly an England cricketer, was not of the same calibre as the spinners I have selected. Had Sydney Smith not had an ironclad case for inclusion as an all rounder I might have included a female in the shape of left arm spinner Linsey Smith.
Chris Smith might have had the opening slot I awarded to MJK. David Smith (Surrey, Worcs, Sussex, picked for the 1986 tour of the Caribbean) was a good county player but not (in spite of the fact that he attended a previous incarnation of my own secondary school) good enough to qualify for selection.
Finally, I deliberately did not pick the guy known in his Cambridge days as ‘Smith’ – KS Duleepsinhji, because I would have considered it hypocritical to avail myself of this “cheat code” given my own condemnation of the conduct of a certain county at which a senior overseas pro was referred to as ‘Steve’ by folk who weren’t prepared to pronounce his real name.
*Graeme Smith – left handed opening batter, captain. Scored large numbers of runs for South Africa. Appointed captain at a very young age he did that job very well as well.
Glenn Turner – right handed opening batter. The only New Zealander to score 100 first class hundreds. In reversal of the more frequent pattern of development he started out as an absolute barnacle and developed an impressive range of strokes as he matured and grew in confidence – his 100th first class hundred as reached in the morning session of the first day of that game. This opening pair should blunt the opposing attack nicely for…
Polly Umrigar – right handed batter, off spinner. India’s leading test run scorer prior to Gavaskar.
Bryan Valentine – right handed batter. A great stylist for Kent and England.
Everton Weekes – right handed batter. One of the greatest of all time to strengthen the middle order.
Jerome Xaba – right handed batter, right arm medium pacer. X is a very difficult letter in this context, hence my inclusion of a player who has yet to feature in first class cricket.
+Hugo Yarnold – wicket keeper, right handed batter. Holds the all-time record for stumpings in a first class innings, with six (six successive batters no less, only David East of Essex who caught eight in a row beats that sequence). In total he made almost 700 dismissals in his 287 first class matches. I accept that he is a trifle high in the order.
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar– leg spinner. Our only front line spinner, and one member of this team whose position in the batting order will not cause any controversy.
This team is weaker in batting than is usual with my selections – Weekes is likely to need to remember how to count to six in the latter part of the innings.
CB FRY’S XI
Ian Davis – right handed opening batter for Australia in the second half of the 1970s, known to his team mates as ‘wiz’ after a TV character of the time, ‘the wizard of ID’.
John Edrich – left handed opening batter. A scorer of over 100 first class hundreds, and with a fine record at test level. He is one of five Surrey batters to have reached 100 first class hundreds (Hayward, Hobbs, Sandham and Ramprakash are the others).
*CB Fry – right handed batter, captain. The English Leonardo, with an astonishing range of accomplishments to his credit.
Syd Gregory– right handed batter, brilliant fielder. A record eight tours of England, the first in 1890 and the last in 1912, the first test double century in Australia (Billy Murdoch scored 211 at The Oval in 1884), 201 at the SCG in 1894.
Graeme Hick – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. His international record makes disappointing reading when compared to his stellar first class record, but there are two bog mitigating factors: his promotion to international cricket was rushed through, pitching him in to the fray against a very formidable West Indian fast bowling line up, and he was then dropped for the Sri Lanka game at tbe end of that season, and subsequently, when he was producing consistently at the top level for the first and only time of his career Ray Illingworth became supremo of English cricket (good idea, utterly wrong choice of person), and publicly described Hick as being ‘soft’, and Hick found himself back to being in and out of the side, as the Illingworth era was marked not so much by selectorial policy as a selectorial merry-go-round. Hick was merely the most prominent of a number of cricketers, along with Devon Malcolm, to be victims of the combination of crassness and insensitivity that marked the Illingworth era.
Jack Iddon – right handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner. Just five England caps, because he was in prime during the tail end of Rhodes’ career and with Roy Kilner also well to the fore, but his first class record, coinciding with his county, Lancashire, enjoying their most successful ever period was 504 matches, 22,681 runs at 36.76 and 551 wickets at 26.90. He was also a decent fielder – once when Hammond commenced a day’s play by hitting the great Ted McDonald for five successive boundaries it was only a great stop by Iddon that prevented ball number six of that opening over going the same way.
Gilbert Jessop – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler, brilliant fielder. The ultimate x-factor player to be coming at seven.
+Jim Kelly – wicket keeper, right handed batter. He succeeded the great Jack Blackham as Australia’s wicket keeper and held the post for some 15 years.
Geoff Lawson – right arm fast bowler. Had an excellent record in the 1980s, including being well capable of making irritating lower order runs, most notably his 74 at Lord’s in 1989 in support of Steve Waugh who was on his way to a second straight 150 (and was undefeated in both those innings).
Sarfraz Nawaz– right arm fast medium bowler. The highlight of his distinguished career was a spell of 7-1 in 33 deliveries that turned seeming defeat against Australia into victory – 305-3 became 310 all out.
This team has solid batting, and a bowling attack of Lawson, Nawaz, Muralitharan, Jessop and Iddon is hardly shabby, though not as stellar as some I have part together in this series.
CB Fry’s XI have greater depth in batting, while Graeme Smith’s XI are heavily reliant on their top five to score lots of runs. Graeme Smith’s XI has a stellar bowling unit, especially Ambrose, Barnes and Chandrasekhar. I see this as a close contest, with the odds possibly favouring CB Fry’s XI.
My latest variation on the all-time XI theme takes me on a wander through the minefield of South African cricket – did I manage it without blowing metaphorically blowing myself to smithereens en route? Probably not!
Welcome to the most difficult and controversial in this series of all-time XI themed posts. I am starting this post on Monday May 11 2020, and will finish when circumstances permit (see my previous post for why this is). I am looking at the most controversial of all international outfits, South Africa, and am well aware that in doing so I venture into a particularly densely populated minefield.
THE PARTICULAR DIFFICULTIES
AROUND SOUTH AFRICA
Peter Oborne in his biography of Basil D’Oliveira points out that no official South African side of their first period as a test nation, 1889-1971, can be regarded as in any way a representative XI as the vast majority of that country’s population were simply excluded from consideration. However, I will not disregard players from that era. I give due consideration to the white South Africans who had their international careers nipped in the bud by their country’s (IMO) long overdue international isolation, but I also make no secret of the fact I am rather more concerned about the non-white South Africans who with a few shining exceptions were airbrushed for many decades from cricket’s history, and they too feature in my thinking. Finally, there is one player in the team from my lifetime who has abandoned his native country after playing five tests for it, and I endeavour to explain and justify that inclusion. Also, I do not in my selection process acknowledge any kind of quota system, though I understand and accept the reasons why today’s South Africa continues to have one, and anyone thinking of using my approach to justify opposition to said quota system kindly take this as a preemptive ‘cease and desist’ notice. There are some goodies at the end of what will be a long post which should appeal to some of you.
SOUTH AFRICA IN MY LIFE
The readmission of South Africa, cleansed of apartheid, in the early 1990s, when I was in mid teens provides a natural cut off point for the start of my selections for this XI, and with due apology to some of the fine players from that country who showed what they could do at levels below full international, including against rebel tour sides some of whom were fairly strong I make it so.
*Graeme Smith – left handed opening batter, captain. A magnificent record, including scores of 259 and 277 in successive matches against England, and he was also a very successful captain. My fellow blogger the pinchhitter has described his appointments in his current role running the SA national team as ‘getting the band back together’ in tribute to that fine film “The Blues Brothers”, as he has surrounded himself with a coterie of former team mates.
Herschelle Gibbs – right handed opening batter. There were several possibilities for this role, but my choice of Gibbs is made because I think he is a perfect counterpoint to Smith.
Hashim Amla– right handed batter. His record as the rock at no3 makes its own case for his selection. I remember his triple hundred against England when he never looked like getting out.
Jacques Kallis – right handed batter, right arm fast medium. Another with an irrefutable case for selection. Had he been more enthusiastic about his bowling he would be a genuine challenger to Sobers’ title as the greatest of all all rounders, but as it is I have him as fourth seamer in this side.
AB De Villiers – right handed batter, sometimes wicket keeper, occasional medium pacer. He is the X factor player in this eleven – and if the front four give him a really good start to cash in on hard hats for the spectators might well be advisable!
Jonty Rhodes – right handed batter, brilliant fielder. Rhodes was the finest fielder I ever saw in action, and I have no hesitation in believing that like Gilbert Jessop of old he was worth 30 an innings to his side in that department, which is why I have given him the nod for this slot over others whose batting may suggest that they are more worthy and over Brian McMillan whose all rounder status might impress others.
+Mark Boucher – wicket keeper, right handed bat. His amazing record as a keeper over the course of 147 test matches and his very handy middle order batting make him an easy pick.
Shaun Pollock – right arm fast medium bowler, useful lower order batter. For this role he rates fourth out of all cricketers I have seen in my lifetime, with Wasim Akram, Malcolm Marshall and Richard Hadlee ahead of him.
Simon Harmer – right arm off spinner, useful lower order batter. He played five times for his native land and had some success before decamping for England, for whom he may yet also get to play (although I personally think it would be a mistake to select him at this juncture for reasons I have discussed elsewhere). I acknowledge the frustrations that caused him to take the course he did, because I have very little doubt that if you are selecting only one front line spinner he is a better bowler than Keshav Maharaj. I also get why South Africa took the approach they did, so this selection is simply an endorsement of Harmer, NOT a criticism of anyone.
Kagiso Rabada– right arm fast bowler. His record commands inclusion, and he is one of two ‘warheads’ I have given this South African attack along with…
Allan Donald – right arm fast bowler. The fact that he chose to wait for his home country to be readmitted rather than qualifying for England meant that he was a little later into the test arena than he might have been, which makes his magnificent record once the opportunity arrived even more outstanding
It is a reflection of South Africa’s cricketing strengths in my lifetime that I have given them an attack featuring only one front line spinner, but I do not think that manipulating an attack of Donald, Rabada, S Pollock an Harmer backed by Kallis to capture 20 wickets in a match would be considered unduly taxing by most captains! While I could see the appeal and in some circumstances recognize the necessity of going for a quick and decisive breakthrough by opening up with Donald and Rabada at full bore I could also see using one of Donald and Rabada in conjunction with Pollock as a new ball pairing and bring the other super speedster on first change, especially at a ground such as Headingley, where a less quick bowler who can run up the slight slope from the football stand end and use a wind blowing towards them to move the ball about is often extremely useful, and you could then give both speedsters a burst with the ball newish even at the end of the second one’s spell from the Kirkstall Lane end.
THE NEW PLAYERS IN THE ALL TIME XI
Barry Richards – right handed opening batter. One of those whose test career was ended by South Africa’s isolation. The word of Sir Donald Bradman (in Roland Perry’s “Bradman’s Best” that Richards was the finest opener he ever saw in action is good enough for me.
Herby Taylor – right handed opening batter. In 1913-14 when Syd Barnes tore South Africa to pieces with 49 wickets in four matches at 10 a piece before missing the fifth due to a dispute over terms and conditions there was one shining exception to the tale of South African batting woe: Herbert William Taylor emerged from the series with 508 runs at 50.80. In one of the early innings of that series 10 South Africans plus extras scraped up 73 between them, yet the all out total was a semi-respectable 182 because Taylor made 109 – and even at the end it was not Barnes but Johnny Douglas who actually dislodged him. Louis Duffus in a short piece titled “Herby Taylor Masters Barnes”, which appears in “The Faber Book of Cricket” describes Taylor’s performance in that innings thus: “with machine like precision he reduced Barnes to the ranks of the mortals.”
Graeme Pollock – left handed batter. His test average of 60.97 is only exceeded among those who have completed their careers and played 20 or more matches by Adam Voges who was lucky with his opponents (the one Ashes series he played was distinctly unimpressive, featuring only two fifties) and Bradman.
*Aubrey Faulkner – right handed batter, leg spinner. 25 test matches brought him 1,754 runs at 40.79 and 82 wickets at 26.58, the only person to have played over 20 test matches and achieved the double feat of averaging over 40 with the bat and under 30 with the ball. He was part of quartet who bowled googlies, along with Albert Vogler, Reggie Schwarz and Gordon White, the latter primarily a batter. It was the fact that two of the four were worth places as batters that enabled all four to be picked and pace bowling not totally neglected as it was by Indian teams in the 1970s when none of Venkataraghavan, Prasanna, Bedi or Chandrasakehar, the game’s other great spinning quartet, were remotely close to being front line batters. In line with my thinking about slow bowling all rounders being well equipped for the role I have named as captain of this side. Faulkner was part of the only team to defeat the 1921 Australians, an assemblage raised by former England skipper Archie MacLaren. After MacLaren’s XI were rolled for 43 in their first dig and the Aussies scored 174 in reply, MacLaren himself fell cheaply, but Faulkner made 153, supported by Hubert Ashton with 75, and then Faulkner, Michael Falcon and Clem Gibson bowled Australia out to fulfill MacLaren’s prophecy that “I could put together a side to beat Armstrong’s lot” (The 1921 Aussies were captained by Warwick Armstrong, then 6’3″ and 22 stone, probably the largest ever international cricketer).
Krom Hendricks – right arm fast bowler, could also bat. The first South African to miss out on international cricket due to his skin colour. He had many advocates for selection in the tour party being picked to go to England in 1894 (not a test tour, but who is to say that given the opportunity he would not still have been playing by the time of the 1907 tour). One attempt was made to include him by taking him along as scorer and baggage handler, a suggested arrangement to which Hendricks responded with outrage. Augustus Tancred, one the leading white South African cricketers of the day made an equally outraged counter response to Hendricks’ claims for equality, recorded in full in the Oborne book, and which basically amounted to ‘how dare a black man not know his place?’. I select Hendricks both for his own merits, which for the controversy in which he was involved to have arisen must have been very considerable and also as a kind of tribute to ‘the unknown black South African cricketer’ so many of whom performed over the years with poor/ no equipment and on the patches of wasteland with barely a blade of grass in sight that were the only ‘grounds’ and ‘pitches’ on which they were permitted to play. I considered Eric Petersen, a contemporary of Basil D’Oliveira for this position but opted for the more historic example of Hendricks.
Hugh Tayfield– off spinner. He was the leading wicket taker for the first incarnation of South Africa as a test playing nation, given his chance after injury brought Athol Rowan’s career to an end largely on the strength of a hunch by then springbok skipper Jack Cheetham (detailed by Louis Duffus in the chapter he contributed on Cheetham to “Cricket: The Great Captains”
With these players assigned their places in the batting order, and the necessary deselections to enable that to happen the All Time South Africa XI reads in batting order: Barry Richards, Herby Taylor, Hashim Amla, Graeme Pollock, Jacques Kallis, *Aubrey Faulkner, +Mark Boucher, Krom Hendricks, Hugh Tayfield, Kagiso Rabada and Allan Donald. This line up has a power packed top five, a genuine all rounder at six, a keeper who can bat st seven and four quality front line bowlers. The bowling attack with three genuine fast men in Donald, Hendricks and Rabada, an off spinner in Tayfield and a leg spinner in Faulkner backed up by Kallis if needed is both strong and well balanced. The southpaws are underrepresented with only Pollock among the front line batters featuring, and no left arm bowler of any kind. However, it looks every inch a serious force to be reckoned with.
There is one very notable omission from this section because I am featuring him in a section to himself and one famous SA cricket name which I am deliberately not mentioning anywhere in this post for reasons readers should be able to work out, one of two such. Among the other recognized openers I could have named were Bruce Mitchell, Alan Melville, the adhesive Trevor Goddard, Jimmy Cook, the best South African opener of their period of isolation and good enough to at least increase the number of contenders for the title of best opener named Cook to two (Sir Alastair of course being the other) and Gary Kirsten. Eddie Barlow, Clive Rice, Ken McEwan (who did remarkable things for Essex in the 1970s and early 1980s) and Darryl Cullinan would all have their advocates for middle order spots. The considerable pool of fast bowling talents available for selection included JJ Kotze, ‘the timber shiverer’ who terrorized England in 1907 when the spinners did not have wet conditions to exploit, Neil Adcock, Peter Heine, Peter Pollock, Vintcent Van Der Bijl (Edmonds, a Middlesex colleague, in “100 Greatest Bowlers” suggests that Van Der Bijl’s test record had he got to play at that level would have looked quite similar to Brian Statham’s) and Garth Le Roux. More recently, without yet having enough of a record to merit consideration Anrich Nortje has been making waves. The spin department is easier to deal with, as with acknowledgement to Athol Rowan and Faulkner’s fellow googly bowlers (Reggie Schwarz learned the trick from its pioneer Bosanquet while at Middlesex and taught the others) the only other two who might merit consideration were Denys Hobson, a 1970s leg spinner, and Imran Tahir, one of those who were seen by Harmer as blocking his progress. Other than Boucher only two other wicket keepers were in the mix, Denis Lindsay and John Waite.
Mike Procter was unquestionably a great all rounder, a genuinely fast bowler who could also turn his hands to off breaks at need and an attacking middle order batter who no opponent dared treat lightly. However, with Donald, Hendricks and Rabada all nailed down for places, and Kallis also there to bowl fast medium I felt that the genuine all rounder of the side needed to be a spinner for the sake of balance, and I defy anyone to challenge my categorization of Faulkner as the most genuine of genuine all rounders.
Given what he achieved when he got to don the blue cap of England at an age well past cricketing prime, what I have read about his deeds in coloured cricket in South Africa and for the SACBOC XI, the nearest thing South Africa had to a truly representative team before 1992 (there were no whites involved, but not because they were excluded but because none chose to participate – had any done so and been good enough to get selected it would have been fully representative, and it was in any case far more so than the teams that were openly drawn from only a tiny minority of that country’s population) I am going to go right out on a limb and say that had D’Oliveira’s test career started in his early twenties for South Africa he would stand not merely as one of the finest cricketers of his generation but as one of the game of cricket’s greatest ever players. The first stage of SA’s isolation began when the MCC, in an attempt to avoid an awkward situation declined to name D’Oliveira in the 1968-9 tour party to South Africa, but then when Tom Cartwright, primarily a bowler, pulled out citing injury (but actually because he was not prepared to go to South Africa) they then named D’Oliveira as his replacement, knowing from the reaction to his initial non-selection that anything else would have been unacceptable. The then South African leader John Vorster decided this gave him the opportunity for a spot of jingoistic posturing and declared that D’Oliveira would not be allowed into South Africa. The MCC responded in the only way they could by cancelling the tour forthwith, although they tried to continue with the 1970 series in England, but soon found that that was not going to be possible either. The final curtain rang down on South Africa’s first incarnation as a test nation when they were due to tour Australia in 1971-2. Anti-apartheid protesters in Australia did not want this tour to go ahead, but others, initially including Bradman who would ultimately make the final call. Bradman made contact with protest organizers, as documented by Roland Perry, including Meredith Burgmann with whom he had an exchange of letters, in which to Burgmann’s own surprise she found Bradman coming round to her way of thinking. Then Bradman bearded the dragon in its den – he went to South Africa and had a private meeting with Vorster. Vorster, making the same kind of misjudgement about Bradman that Burgmann had when she assumed that he was ‘one of them’ assumed that Bradman was ‘one of us’ and during that private discussion gave vent to some unvarnished and apparently exceedingly crass racism and it was that that finally settled the issue for Bradman, and he not only cancelled the tour, but made a famous statement that “We will not play them again until they select their team on a non-racist basis.” From then until readmission post apartheid in 1992 South Africa did not play another official test match. Vorster who like certain hard right racists of more recent vintage (recognize anyone, USian followers?) did not take kindly to being crossed and had a tendency to throw tantrums proceeded to produce a classic in which he publicly berated Bradman because the Aussie had proved not be ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’, but his own person, making decisions based on the evidence presented to him. While I could not name D’Oliveira in the squad because of his long association with England and English cricket I felt that a section about him was appropriate and I end with the little note that test series between England and South Africa are now played for the D’Oliveira trophy, which at the time of writing is in English hands.
When I set out on this little expedition through South African cricket I viewed it rather akin to strolling through a densely planted minefield because of the controversial nature of the subject matter. Feel free to comment if you so wish on how many times I metaphorically blew myself to pieces during the journey, but bear in mind that at least I made the journey myself rather than sending a minion, or recording video footage with the mines safely deactivated! I hope I have done justice to my subject matter, and that my selections are at least intelligible, and I conclude the cricket part of this post by repeating a point made in an earlier post in this series that with these international side selections no two people would be likely to arrive at the same set of answers.
I am feeling generous, perhaps because of the continued improvement in my health, and perhaps because this post has been such fun to create, so I will give the four available answers: a)9 b)15 c)21 or d)27. I will reveal all tomorrow.
Well, our African Adventure (yes, many years ago in my youth, I did read the series of books by Willard Price that included one with that title) is done, and we have seen a soupcon of science and a measure of mathematics, so all that remains is the final photographic flourish:
PS I have spaced the construction of this post out over most of a day, with breaks when needed, and I am feeling fine and only a little tired – for all the size of this post in total starting from 10AM I have probably given four hours to it, meaning that closer to five have been spent doing other things.