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The Proteas’ Test best: A pace attack fit for a king … and a Maharaj


South Africa has been blessed with some terrific fast bowlers. It’s almost impossible to pick just three, but STUART HESS does today.

Today, in part five of the series looking at the best Proteas XI of the post-isolation era, Stuart Hess picks his bowling attack.



Keshav Mahara

j has Steve Smith as his maiden Test wicket, which is not a bad one. Maharaj very quickly established himself as the team’s premier spinner, but wasn’t dealt the best support, with pitches locally being set up to suit seamers – overwhelmingly.

Nevertheless when called upon Maharaj married the twin demands of controlling the run rate and taking wickets beautifully. His 110 wickets have come at an average of 33.19 and a strike rate of 60.7. He has enough variation to keep opposing batsmen thinking and spins the ball sufficiently when the occasion demands.

Here is how the rest of the team shaped up:

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

The Proteas’ Test best: De Kock’s batting sets him apart from the rest

Has suffered a little bit with a version of ‘second season syndrome’ in the last 12 months, but has a strong mind, which will only see him get better as his career progresses.


Paul Adams

 – an excellent all round record (134 wickets at 32.87), lacked consistency, which made it a challenge for captains to manage him. 

Paul Harris

 – A critical part of the attack that helped the Proteas achieve historic successes in 2008. He revelled in opponents – and even the South African public – underestimating him.


Shaun Pollock

 – His best performance – statistically speaking – came on a flat pitch, in the third Test at the Adelaide Oval in 1998, in temperatures nudging 40 celsius. Of the 122 overs South Africa bowled in Australia’s first innings, Pollock bowled 41, claiming 7/87.

He would have bowled South Africa to victory, but for the umpires shirking their responsibility when Mark Waugh whacked his stumps with his bat in the second innings.

Pollock had a nasty bouncer in his younger days and he was”quicker than you thought.” He was always deadly accurate and batsmen had little respite when he was operating.

Allan Donald

 – Had it all as a fast bowler; magnificent rhythm, a wonderful, smooth action, heaps of pace, a nasty bouncer and he could get angry – properly.

Donald was not out of place in that great 90s era of fast bowling – Akram, Waqar, Ambrose, Walsh – and set the early records, that Pollock, Ntini and Steyn would chase later.

He was courageous, happy to take on the extra workload even if it shortened his career somewhat later.

In 1998 he was the top wicket-taker in Test cricket with 80 wickets, that included seven five-fors in just 14 Tests.

Dale Steyn

 – Gave the impression he could turn a match on a whim – he was that good. Nagpur in 2010, Port Elizabeth in 2014, Perth 2012 and of course the 6/8 in eight overs against Pakistan at the Wanderers in 2013, stand out as matches where his spells tilted the game decisively in South Africa’s favour.

There were many other similar occasions. Steyn could swing the ball conventionally away from the right hander, at pace, and late as well. As Nagpur showed, he could reverse it too.

In India – the so called grave-yard of fast bowling – he took 26 wickets at 21.38 in six Tests. Steyn has the sixth best strike rate (balls per wicket) all time, 42.3 (three of the others on that list played before World War 1).




, 197 wickets in 43 matches – his strike rate is 40.6, which is better than Steyn’s. In 20 years time, he’ll probably crack the starting XI of this team.

Makhaya Ntini

, a workhorse for the national team from the early 2000s on. He carried an enormous load especially on that tour to England in 2003. His 390 wickets are the third most by a South African

Morné Morkel

 – Might he have taken more than his 309 wickets had Steyn, Ntini and later Philander and Rabada not been around? He certainly set up many wickets for them, with his nasty bounce and pace unsettling for many opposing batsmen.

Vernon Philander

 – 224 wickets at an average of 22.32 and strike rate of 50.8, with 13 five-fors and two ten-fors. To quote the man himself: “Stats don’t lie.”


That Proteas best Test XI post 1990

Graeme Smith (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Daryll Cullinan, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Shaun Pollock, Keshav Maharaj, Dale Steyn, Allan Donald.

A well-balanced side, with a lot of aggressive batting. Kallis’ skills, allows room for a spinner. South Africa has had and continues to have so much fast bowling depth that choosing just three is a very difficult task. Rabada, Philander, Morkel against the batting line-up picked above, would make for good viewing.