Top 5 South African captains of all time

Graeme Smith Faf du Plessis
South Africa have produced indomitable leaders like Graeme Smith and Faf du Plessis
Ram Kumar

As of 5th October 2017, South Africa have played a total of 1094 cricket matches across all three formats of the game. 42 cricketers have had the privilege of leading the Proteas in the international arena. Due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Apartheid Era, their history in the sport has been split into two halves.

Considering the fact that 922 of those games have occurred since their readmission in November 1991, the focal point can be narrowed down to 18 skippers. While the vast majority of those leaders have managed to produce consistent results, a select few have left a much deeper and indelible legacy on the country's cricket history.

Also Read: Top 5 England captains of all-time

Here are five of the best captains to lead South Africa since their re-entry into the international circuit. Emphasis has been placed on Tests in challenging conditions and limited-overs matches against quality teams.

#5 Kepler Wessels

Kepler Wessels
Kepler Wessels was South Africa's first Test captain since re-admission

After South Africa were welcomed back into the international fold in 1991, Kepler Wessels became their first Test captain. The resolute left-hander also led them in their maiden appearance in the World Cup. Having played for Australia in the years leading up to his country's readmission, he did not take too long to adapt to the nation of his birth and helped them ease their way back in his second innings.

Wessels's adept handling of South Africa's fast bowlers converted the team into a dangerous unit capable of performing in different conditions. If the 1-0 Test series victory on Sri Lankan soil showed their versatility, the home and away drawn series against Australia reflected their grit.

Apart from the home series triumph against India, Wessels did not enjoy much ODI success in his captaincy career. Nevertheless, his profound knowledge of the game and numerous years of experience in various domestic circuits made him a reliable captain.

Captaincy Record

Tests: 5 wins and 3 losses from 16 matches

ODIs: 20 wins and 30 losses from 52 matches

#4 Faf du Plessis

Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis is widely regarded as the best captain in the current era

A man of strong character, Faf du Plessis is South Africa's current captain across all three formats of the game. His leadership mettle can be discerned from the fact that a star cricketer like AB de Villiers faced intense pressure from various quarters to give up the ODI captaincy. With astute strategic skills and commendable man-management ability, he has rapidly established himself as one of the best captains in the present era.

Extra Cover: Faf du Plessis - No longer in the shadows

Faf du Plessis's career has not been without controversies. Yet, he has managed to rise above off-field turbulence and media hassle by exuding palpable calmness. The right-hander's composed response to ball tampering allegations embodied his level-headed nature.

His spirited leadership was among the key reasons for South Africa's 2-1 Test series triumph in Australia. If he leads his country to the hitherto elusive World Cup glory in 2019, du Plessis should be able to cement his legacy in the annals of South African cricket.

*Captaincy Record

Tests: 9 wins and 3 losses from 15 matches

ODIs: 8 wins and 1 loss from 9 matches

T20Is: 19 wins and 13 losses from 32 matches

(*Note: All Statistics are accurate as of 5th October 2017

#3 Shaun Pollock

Shaun Pollock
Shaun Pollock took over the reins of a team still reeling from the aftermath of the match-fixing crisis

When Shaun Pollock succeeded Hansie Cronje at the helm of affairs, South African cricket was still shrouded in diffidence and desperately needed an obdurate yet endearing captain to lift them from the quagmire enforced by the infamous match-fixing scandal.

With an immense work-ethic and constant efforts at improving every facet of his game, Pollock quickly won over the public and paved the way for his team to begin regaining their support.

The all-rounder led from the front with key contributions with both bat and ball. Even though he did not exude the aura of a natural leader, Pollock's captaincy was built on unwavering commitment to the team's cause.

He led the Proteas to 8 Test series victories and 12 ODI series/tournaments successes. However, his captaincy stint met a traumatic end after a fatal miscalculation of the Duckworth-Lewis target led to South Africa's ignominious group-stage exit in the 2003 World Cup on home soil.

Captaincy Record

Tests: 14 wins and 5 losses from 26 matches

ODIs: 60 wins and 33 losses from 97 matches

T20Is: 1 loss from 1 match

#2 Hansie Cronje

Hansie Cronje
Hansie Cronje was renowned as a smart tactician capable of thinking outside the box

The sight of Hansie Cronje breaking down during testimony at King's Commission remains one of the most poignant moments in cricket history. Before he admitted to his involvement in the nefarious match-fixing scandal and subsequently ruined his legacy in the game, the Bloemfontein-born cricketer was a renowned captain who led his country in both Tests and ODIs for a substantial period of time.

Out of 19 Tests series between 1994 and 2000, the Cronje-led team lost only four and earned the reputation of being a world-class unit. In the limited-overs front, South Africa's only title in ICC events came under his captaincy.

The right-hander's two half-centuries played a vital role in securing the 1998 Wills International Cup which would later be construed as the inaugural edition of Champions Trophy. His aggressive tactics were the cornerstone of the Proteas's successes during the 90s. In 2002, Cronje passed away in a flight crash.

Captaincy Record

Tests: 27 wins and 11 losses from 53 matches

ODIs: 99 wins and 35 losses from 138 matches

#1 Graeme Smith

Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith's strong persona and relentless approach made him a natural leader

If one were to go by longevity and numbers, very few captains can match Graeme Smith's remarkable record. He remains the only captain in Test history to lead any team in 100 or more matches and the only skipper to win 50 or more matches.

However, the opener's legacy is much more than mere statistics. His intuitive style of captaincy went a long way in adding steel to South African cricket. When he was surprisingly chosen as Shaun Pollock's successor, the southpaw was just 22 and had played a grand total of 30 international matches across formats. Not many would have expected him to become one of the greatest leaders of all-time.

Extra Cover: South Africa's best XI since readmission

Upon possessing a bunch of talented players, South Africa needed a leader with vision and credence. Smith had them and then some. With his inspirational leadership, he fashioned a team in his own image - unflappable and tenacious.

The left-hander led South Africa to the number one position in all three formats simultaneously. More pertinently, his team performed splendidly away from home and gained worldwide respect.

In an era where every other team struggled outside their comfort zones, the Proteas cruised to two successive Test series victories each in England and Australia. Such feats would not have been possible were it not for Smith's unrelenting determination which rubbed off on his team mates too.

Captaincy Record

Tests: 53 wins and 29 losses from 109 matches

ODIs: 92 wins and 51 losses from 150 matches

T20Is: 18 wins and 9 losses from 27 matches

Edited by Umid Kumar Dey


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