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

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Stuart Hess has been given the unenviable task of putting together his post-isolation Proteas Test team. Today he starts with the openers.

Graeme Smith averaged 49 opening the batting for the Proteas. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

IT’S NO easy task picking a Test team made up of players who represented South Africa in the post-isolation era. However STUART HESS will give it a go in a series starting today.

For the purposes of this exercise, South Africa is facing India at Newlands. There’s a bit of movement on day one, it flattens out on day 2, day 3 is great for batting and from the latter stages of the final session on day 4, it’s starting to spin.

The fifth day it break up further – some inconsistent bounce – and a lot of spin. Here’s the team I’m picking to win the game. 

OPENERS

Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith 

The Proteas had some good ones in the last 30 years. As many of them will tell you, the most difficult place to open the batting in the world is South Africa.

Technique is important, but moreso, mental toughness. It’s probably the latter aspect where Herschelle Gibbs doesn’t get enough credit, but his record indicates just how good he was. He averaged 47.22 as an opener, scoring all 14 of his Test hundreds from that position.

His shotmaking was exquisite, but he also enjoyed a good scrap with his match-winning 104 in the final innings of the third Test against Australia in Durban in 2002 – against an attack featuring Warne, McGrath, Lee and Gillespie – a perfect illustration thereof.

Perhaps he could have done more, and it’s weird to think that his 183 against England at The Oval in 2003 probably cost South Africa a series win, because he really should have scored at least 100 more runs in that innings.

For the purposes of this exercise, the fact that he and Smith averaged 42.34 as an opening combination is helpful.

Smith was tough, never looked pretty, but was hugely effective. He knew his limitations and averaged 49.07 as an opener (nine of his 205 innings were not as an opener) and South Africa never lost when he made a hundred.

Smith naturally captains the side. Two series wins in Australia and England count as some of the greatest achievements in South African cricket’s history.

Notables

Gary Kirsten – resourceful and extremely consistent.

Andrew Hudson – excellent against fast bowling.

Dean Elgar – like Kirsten a tough character and in 2017 he was the team’s star player.

Neil McKenzie – as an opener he averaged 39.75, and in 2008 he scored more runs than Tendulkar, De Villiers, Dravid and Pietersen.