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They are a competitive test playing nation who have produced some of the best players in the game. But who are the best South African cricketers of all time?
Who is the Best Cricketer from South Africa of All Time?
The majority opinion suggests that Jacques Kallis is the best South African cricketer of all time. He was an all rounder, but he merited a place in the team for either his batting or his bowling in isolation.
Kallis played his last international in 2014, but he still holds the records for most South African runs in test cricket and in ODIs.
Who is the Best Fast Bowler from South Africa?
Dale Steyn is widely regarded as the best fast bowler that South Africa have ever produced. He wasn’t the tallest of the quicks, but he bowled with genuine pace and a skiddy action.
At the time of writing in 2022, Steyn still holds the record for most South African test wickets with 439 victims.
Greatest South African Cricketers of All Time
We’ve seen that most observers state that Jacques Kallis is the best South African cricketer of all time. His statistics are phenomenal and they adequately back up that theory. His totals of 13,206 runs in tests and 11550 in ODIs are clear records, and nobody has come close to breaking those as yet.
It’s also worth noting that Kallis scored an incredible 45 test centuries in his 165 matches.
His bowling was exceptional too. Jacques Kallis claimed 291 wickets in test matches and a further 285 across the two limited overs formats.
Faf Du Plessis
Beyond the man at the top, this list is in no particular order. Faf Du Plessis might split opinion, but he was a defiant batsman, a safe pair of hands in the field, and he could bowl some useful spin if required.
Du Plessis also led the South African team well, at a time when the side was losing some of its top players to retirement. He finished his career with over 10,000 international runs and his ten test centuries included a highest score of 199.
AB de Villiers
The man known as Mr 360 or Superman of Cricket has some serious endorsements from independent sources. AB De Villiers was the ICC One Day International Player of the Year on three occasions and he was also named as one of Wisden’s Players of the Decade.
De Villiers got that nickname because of his ability to play shots all around the wicket. He excelled in the limited overs formats and his total of 9427 ODI runs is second only to Jacques Kallis in the country’s all time list.
AB was exceptional in any format and we can also add 8765 test runs with 22 centuries and a highest score of 278.
We now come to the first of a selection of South African players who were unable to fulfill their true potential at international level. Because of the country’s exclusion from sport from the start of the early 1970s, many promising cricketers had their test careers cut short.
Graeme Pollock was undoubtedly the best of that generation. Having made his debut in 1963, he did get to play in 23 tests, and he certainly made his mark in that time. Pollock made 2256 runs with seven centuries and a best of 274, and his average of 60.97 was second only to Don Bradman at that time.
Had he been able to continue, we might even be talking about Graeme Pollock as South Africa’s greatest ever cricketer.
He will be remembered as a destructive limited overs player who would score quick runs at the top of the order. Herschelle Gibbs could also be effective in test cricket where he would maintain that fast tempo against the new red ball.
He was South Africa’s leading ODI run scorer for a time and he finished with 8094 runs in this format. Gibbs’ value in test cricket may be underrated, so it’s worth mentioning that he currently sits in sixth place in South Africa’s all time run scoring list with 6167 runs and 14 centuries.
Hashim Amla did feature in limited overs cricket, but his patient approach to run scoring was more suited to the red ball game. This is the format in which he excelled and he remains as the second highest test run scorer for South Africa to this day.
Amla made his debut against India in 2004 and would finish his international career 15 years later. He made 9282 runs in 124 games and his highest score of 311 not out came against England at The Oval in 2012.
Hashim Amla finished with a test average of 46.64, and there is an argument that he was South Africa’s best ever batter in the red ball format.
We’ve already seen the claim that Dale Steyn was South Africa’s greatest ever bowler and it’s a justified one. Nobody has overtaken his milestone of 439 test wickets and it doesn’t look as though any of the current crop of bowlers will reach that mark anytime soon.
Steyn had serious pace and hostility and he could use swing and seam when the conditions suited. Test cricket was his speciality, but he also claimed 196 wickets in ODIs and 64 in T20is.
If Jacques Kallis hadn’t played for South Africa, we’d be talking up Shaun Pollock as the greatest cricketer that the country had ever produced. The son of Graeme Pollock, Shaun was more effective with ball in hand, but he was a useful batter too, scoring 3781 runs with two test centuries.
Pollock was the standout bowler for South Africa during a career that lasted between 1995 and 2008. He played 108 tests in that time and his tally of 421 one wickets was a national record until Dale Steyn overtook it.
I know that this will be a divisive one and there are obvious reasons for not including Hansie Cronje on this list. His involvement in the match fixing scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s tarnished the reputation of South African cricket and he left a damaged legacy.
But he was a fine cricketer and a great leader before he was tempted to stray, Cronje developed an exciting team and he scored over 9,000 international runs. It’s with mixed feelings that he’s included. He was involved in the worst crimes possible on a cricket field, but he was a superb player and that’s really what this list is all about.
Everyone knows about Jonty Rhodes’ fielding, and it’s true that he was one of the best in the business. He could produce run outs from thin air and he saved countless runs in the field.
Because of that exceptional fielding, we tend to forget that Rhodes was a very fine batsman who deserved his place in the team on that basis. He was most effective in ODIs where he scored almost 6,000 runs, but he also made three test centuries with a best of 117.
A young Graeme Smith was given the huge responsibility of captaincy in the wake of the Hansie Cronje affair. He was only 22 when he took over the reins as the national skipper, but he led with maturity and would go on to set a record with 54 test match wins while in charge.
Smith could lead by example when the situation demanded. He enjoyed a prolific tour of England in 2003, making double centuries in consecutive tests at Edgbaston and Lord’s. He retired in 2014 as South Africa’s second highest run scorer in test matches with 9253 runs and no fewer than 27 centuries.
Before the likes of Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla came into the side, Gary Kirsten was South Africa’s most reliable batter. He was their most impressive player in the period after readmission and he was the country’s leading run scorer until others overtook him.
Kirsten played 101 tests between 1993 and 2004, scoring over 7,000 runs with 21 centuries and a best of 275. He wasn’t the most natural limited overs player, but he also scored an impressive 6798 runs in ODIs.
Barry Richards was another man destined for great things before South Africa were banned from international sport in the wake of Apartheid. His international career was much more brief than that of Graeme Pollock, but many felt that he was just as effective with the bat.
He played in just one series – South Africa’s last before exclusion in 1970. Richards was exceptional with two hundreds and two half centuries in four games, which contributed to 508 runs at an average of 72.57.
All-rounder Mike Procter was also destined for a brilliant international career in the early 1970s. He featured in just seven tests, but that was enough time for him to make a mark with the ball. He took 41 wickets with best figures of 6/73.
Procter didn’t impress with the bat at test level, but the fact that he went on to make 48 first class centuries suggests that he would have enjoyed a brilliant all-round international career.
Talented Youngsters of South African Cricket
There are some talented young players coming through the Cricket South Africa system and here are three of the best.
Sinethemba Qeshile is a wicket keeper / batter who made two T20i appearances for South Africa in 2019. He’s awaiting his third cap at the time of writing, but it can’t be too far away.
Qeshile is one of the best keepers in the country and he’s also a useful batter down the order.
Regular cricket watchers may have already seen Lutho Sipamla in action. He’s made 17 international appearances at the time of writing, and there should be many more caps in the future.
Sipamla is a fast medium bowler who can swing the ball in most conditions.
Gerald Coetzee was called up to a senior national T20 squad in 2022, but he is awaiting his full debut. He’s one of the quicker bowlers around and he should prove effective in all three formats.
A star of the Under 19 World Cup, Dewald Brevis is a fast scorer of runs and his reputation earned him an IPL call up in 2022.
Tristan Stubbs has also played franchise cricket and he’s a similar batter to Brevis. He’ll score at a fast tempo and he looks to have a big career ahead in the shorter forms.
It’s been interesting to compile this list. It’s been more than 30 years since South Africa’s readmission to international sport and many round ups of this kind tend to focus on modern cricketers.
Sadly for those involved, there are those whose careers were cut short due to the regime in the 1970s and 1980s. They didn’t achieve what they should have done in tests and ODIs, but I think there are some of those who deserve to be here.
I could have added more and I could have gone back even further in time. Everyone will have their own opinions, so feel free to disagree and to add your own thoughts.