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Top 10 South African batsmen of all time

Nourse and Gra
Nourse and Graeme Pollock (image courtesy: ESPN CricInfo)
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South Africa is one of the great cricketing nations and over the last 100 years, they have produced some of the finest batsmen to have ever played the game. Due to their absence from the international cricket for around two decades due to apartheid, some of South Africa’s greatest players could not ply their trade on the international stage.

However, the production line of top batsmen never stopped and when they returned in 1991, it looked as if they had never been away. Let’s take a look at some 10 of the greatest batsmen to have played the game for the Proteas.

10 Dudley Nourse

Although his best years as a batsman were interrupted by the Second World War, Dudley Nourse’s status as one of South Africa’s greatest ever batsmen is secure. He played only 34 Test matches but recorded an average of 53.81 and scored 9 centuries.

One of his greatest innings was the 208 he scored at Nottingham in 1951. Nourse batted 9 hours with a broken right thumb and helped South Africa win a Test against England after a long gap of 16 years.

9 Barry Richards

Barry Richards
Barry RichardsBarry Richards could only play 4 Test matches for South Africa back in the Test series v Australia in 1969-70.

However, his stature as a batsman is beyond doubt and one of the greatest speculations among cricket fans is what he could have achieved had South Africa not been isolated.

His technique as an opening batsman was of the highest order and in addition to that, he was an excellent stroke-maker who enjoyed dominating the bowlers. In those 4 Tests, (South Africa won 4-0), he plundered 508 runs with 2 centuries and 2 fifties.

8 Darryl Cullinan

South Africa v West Indies X

Darryl Cullinan was the anchor around which South African batting revolved in the 1990s and early noughties. Technically correct, defensively solid and range of strokes that could handle most bowling attacks made him one of the best top order batsmen of his generation.

Although he averaged 44.21 in 70 Tests, he had the ability to bat big and long, a quality that saw him score plenty of big hundreds. Cullinan scored 14 Test centuries in total and more than held his own in one-day internationals despite managing to score only 3 centuries in the shorter format of the game.

7 Gary Kirsten

Gary Kirsten of South Africa on his way to scoring 67

Gary Kirsten opened the innings for South Africa in both Tests and ODIs for around a decade. He shone in both formats of the game and it is no wonder that he is considered one of the country’s greatest batsmen.

A patient batsman, with the ability to play both pace, swing, and spin, Kirsten scored 21 Test hundreds for his country to go along with the 12 in ODIs.

He held the top order together as the more adventurous batsmen made merry in the other end and along with Herschelle Gibbs, he formed one of the most effective opening partnerships in world cricket.

6 Graeme Smith

South Africa v Australia - 2nd Test: Day 3

Captain, legend and one of South Africa’s greatest ever batsmen. Greame Smith took the baton from Gary Kirsten and went on to become one of the world’s best opening batsmen during a career that lasted around 12 years.

He was not the most technically correct player but like any other top batsmen, he made adjustments to become one of South Africa’s pillars during their era of dominance. Smith scored over 9000 runs in 117 Tests with 27 centuries.

He was one of the grittiest and most combative batsmen to have ever turned out for South Africa.

5 Herschelle Gibbs

South Africa v West Indies - ICC Twenty20 World Championship

Not many mavericks go on to become a great batsman and certainly not if he is an opening batsman in all forms of the game.

However, Herschelle Gibbs is different and in a career that lasted around 14 years, he became one of South Africa’s biggest match winners and is rightly considered among the great ones to have been produced by the country. He was unorthodox and he could take on any bowler on his day.

Tests or ODIs could be decided by an innings of savagery that often left the opposition stunned. In 90 Tests, he scored 14 hundreds but his true greatness lay in the one-day game in which he hammered 21 centuries in 248 games.

The 175 he scored against Australia to help chase down the target of 434 remains one of the greatest ODI innings ever played.

4 AB de Villiers

New Zealand v South Africa: Semi Final - 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup

No batsman in South African cricket history has dominated across formats in such a way in recent years and AB de Villiers’ ability to switch deftly from format to the other makes him such a great player.

If he has to bat 300 deliveries in order to save a Test match, he would block his way to a 220 ball 33, while on the other hand, he can score a century in 31 balls to break an ODI world record. He averages above 50 in both Tests and ODIs.

It is his versatility and ability to win games across formats that makes him one of the world’s greatest batsmen, not only South Africa’s.

3 Hashim Amla

India v South Africa - ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014

Hashim Amla has the air of a Zen master when he bats and along with Kallis, AB de Villiers, and Kallis, he formed one of the greatest batting line-ups in modern cricket history.

Amla has the patience to dig in hard when the going is tough but at the same time he can play glorious strokes once he is set and his 311 not out at the Oval in 2012 encapsulated all that is great in him as a batsman.

Amla is an equally good player in ODIs and has scored 25 centuries in the format as opposed to the 25 he has scored in Test matches. He has been one of South Africa’s greatest ever batsmen and hopefully, he will end his career with a flourish.

2 Graeme Pollock

Graeme Pollock
Graeme Pollock

Sir Donald Bradman once said that Graeme Pollock was the greatest left-hand batsman that he had ever seen and added that he was of the same class as Gary Sobers.

However, South Africa’s isolation from cricket meant that Pollock could only play 23 Test matches in his career spanning around 6 years. His average of 60.97 is the highest among South African players, and the 3rd highest of all times for batsman who have played at least 20 Tests.

Pollock’s greatest gift was his timing and could hit boundaries with minimal effort. He scored 7 hundreds along with 11 fifties and his 274 against Australia at Durban in that famous series in 1969-70 stood as the record individual score for a South African for many years.

1 Jacques Kallis

South Africa v Australia - 3rd One Day International

166 Test matches, 45 centuries, an average of 55.37 and 13289 runs. That is the sort of Test record South African great Jacques Kallis retired with and considering the fact that he was an excellent bowler as well, it is safe to say that he wasn’t only his nation’s greatest ever batsman but also its greatest cricketer.

Kallis had the technique to bat for long, grind the opposition to dust and then peel off runs off a demoralised opposition. He did this routine around 18 years in Test cricket and emerged as one of the greatest batsmen to ever play the game.

In 328 ODIs, he scored 17 centuries at an average of 44.36 and played the anchor role in a lineup filled with stroke makers. Kallis’ mastery over his technique often made bowlers feel like they were bowling at a 10 feet wide wall.

Edited by Anuradha Santhanam
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