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The Proteas’ Test best: A GOAT and a divisive figure in the middle order

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Today, in part three of the series looking at the best Proteas XI of the post-isolation era, STUART HESS picks his middle order.

AB de Villiers loved getting stuck into bowling, in any format of the game. Picture: Reuters

A TOP order of Smith, Gibbs, and Amla should have the Proteas off to a good start and what you want is a middle order that can build on that. Today, in part three of the series looking at the best Proteas XI of the post-isolation era, Stuart Hess looks at the middle order.

The Proteas’ Test best: An opening partnership with a mix of flair and grit

The Proteas’ Test best: How Hashim Amla made the No 3 position his own

THE MIDDLE ORDER

No 4 

Jacques Kallis is this country’s greatest cricketer. All the numbers tell you that. And he still infuriated South Africans for a large portion of his career. “Too selfish”, ”too slow”, “too self-absorbed”, “he plays for his average”, “he’s boring”.

He was also, as we’ve now learned, irreplaceable. Ricky Ponting, for one, wondered out loud in 2009 – during the Proteas’ triumphant tour Down Under – how anyone could criticise Kallis. “The bloke averages 50 with the bat, almost 30 with the ball and catches everything in the slips and he cops so much criticism … I don’t get it. You won’t find me criticising Jacques Kallis.”

He scored over 13,000 runs, the most by a South African. He took 292 wickets – the sixth highest by a South African – and claimed 200 catches, the most by a player from this country. At No 4 the world really saw the best of his batting – he was more aggressive – and could afford to be, given Amla’s role at No 3.

He averaged 61.86 as a No 4, scoring both of his double hundreds from that position.


No 5

Daryll Cullinan is arguably the most stylish batsman South Africa’s produced in the post-isolation era, but his reputation has become too tied up in his troubles with a certain blonde Australian leg-spinner.

Here’s the thing, Cullinan wasn’t the only one to have trouble with that guy. Yes you-know-who got in his head (and stayed there), but he thrived against the other great spinners of that era – Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble. Cullinan averaged 53.94 against Sri Lanka, scoring five centuries in 11 Tests against them, with two of those hundreds scored in Sri Lanka. 

Against India, with Kumble in his pomp, he averaged 52.92, making two hundreds, one of which, his 153* in Kolkata in 1996, is one his best performances.

Cullinan possessed a dreamy cover drive and thumping pull shot. He was a divisive personality in the dressing room, but boy, could he bat.

No 6 

No one quite took a game away from the opposition like AB de Villiers

Perth in 2008 and 2012, Johannesburg 2013 against Pakistan, Ahmedabad in 2008 and best of all his 126 not out in Port Elizabeth in 2018 all stand out as innings where De Villiers (not always batting this low) came in and ripped the match out of the opponents’ grasp.

They were left with no hope. De Villiers wasn’t helped initially by no one knowing how best his remarkable talents could be utilised; he opened the innings 35 times, batted at No 3 twice and played 23 innings at No 4 (mostly towards the end of his career). For the most part he batted at No 5 or 6, averaging over 50 in both spots.

De Villiers thrived in that great team of the 2008-2014 period. He is most fondly remembered for his exploits in the limited overs arena – but he was darned good Test batsmen and just as capable of defending for long periods, just look at Adelaide in 2012: 220 balls faced, 246 minutes spent at the crease, 33 runs, and nary a four or six in sight.

He’s also the team’s back-up wicket-keeper.

https://youtu.be/exYN3qxJsus

Notables

Ashwell Prince – no one seemed to enjoy scoring tough runs like the left-hander. Half of his 11 centuries came when South Africa were in deep trouble

Jonty Rhodes – also loved a scrap, and his 101 not out at Moratuwa in 1993, is one of the great match-saving innings produced by a Proteas batsman.