Home > Features >

South Africa’s batsmen — an armour crafted to perfection

South Africa's batting machinery is an arsenal of class, dominance and patience © Getty Images
South Africa’s batting machinery is a brilliant mix of class, dominance, attitude and patience © Getty Images

South Africa had almost saved another Test at Newlands in Graeme Smith’s farewell Test. Abhishek Mukherjee tries to dig deep into the Protean attitude.

AB de Villiers is arguably the most destructive batsman in the world today.

Faf du Plessis is the South African captain for the upcoming World Twenty20.

Hashim Amla has a strike rate of 90 in ODIs and 122 in T20Is. The corresponding numbers for JP Duminy are 84 and 123.

Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, and Kyle Abbott are supposed to be bowlers.

And I am not even mentioning Jacques Kallis, the greatest of them all, or Graeme Smith, who sits perched on a throne beyond the reach of any other among successful fourth-innings chasers.

What is common to these men?

At Adelaide Oval in 2011-12, South Africa had to play out a day and a half. An injured Kallis had resisted for 110 minutes; du Plessis for 376 balls; de Villiers for 220 (without hitting a boundary); and Steyn for 28 (without scoring a run). The Test was saved.

At New Wanderers earlier this season, South Africa had to chase down 458 in a day and a half. After Smith batted for 73 balls and Alviro Petersen for 162, du Plessis played out 309 more and de Villiers another 168. Philander held up the rear, facing 37 balls without getting out. The Test was saved. South Africa had come very close to winning it.

At Newlands, once again, they had to bat out a day and a half. They had been reduced to 15 for three in six overs, but they did not give up hope, not even when Amla fell after playing out a mere 109 balls. Abbott rose to the occasion by enduring 89, de Villiers 228, du Plessis 109, Duminy 99, Philander 105 (unbeaten), and an injured Steyn 44.

What is it about these men? How do they manage to curb their instincts and play out of their skin to save Tests that other teams cannot? It has been this selfless attitude and discipline to curb their instincts that have made them the top-ranked Test side in the world.

South African cricketers, by nature, are not among the most glamorous. Kallis, the only cricketer who has had numbers comparable to Garry Sobers, is often overlooked in the heated arguments over the best all-rounder or the best batsman of our time. Smith, the man who has moulded world cricket like few others have during his 11-year tenure as captain, is seldom considered a star.

True, there have been the Allan Donalds and the Jonty Rhodes and the Lance Kluseners and the Dale Steyns. They have been heroes who could take the world by storm: along with them, however, were the unfancied Shaun Pollock or the oft-overlooked Fanie de Villiers. Seldom has Gary Kirsten’s name been considered as a leading opener; Brian McMillan’s excellent numbers have been lost somewhere in obscurity; and Dave Richardson and Mark Boucher are seldom considered among the all-time greats.

South African cricket has almost never been about stars. They do not have the glamour of their Indian counterparts or the heritage of The Ashes. Why, the Australia-South Africa contest doesn’t even have a name! What they have, though, is impeccable work ethic, the willingness to execute, and a never-say-die attitude.

The above, coupled with a culture that encourages sport, has made them fitter than most cricket-playing nations. Their attitude towards the sport has made them the finest fielding side; their willingness to serve their teams as much as possible has perhaps been the single-most reason for their generations of all-rounders; and, above everything, their never-say-die attitude has helped them to curb their instincts.

It is probably the same reason that Rahul Dravid, arguably the man with the best temperament in the world in the 2000s, has faced 102 balls in the fourth innings on an average; Brian Lara, 53; Steve Waugh, 60; Ricky Ponting, 82; Inzamam-ul-Haq, 73; and Sachin Tendulkar, 73.

Compare these numbers with the South Africans: de Villiers 105; Smith 83; Kallis 97; Amla 72; Ashwell Prince 111; Jacques Rudolph 71; Duminy 83; Kirsten, 91; Hansie Cronje 89; and du Plessis (albeit based on a small sample) a near-absurd 214; additionally, Philander has never been dismissed in the fourth innings of Tests.

These are, of course, numbers that come up very often. Almost all South Africans have managed to outdo their contemporaries. And yet, they have somehow managed to execute all that silently, without anyone noticing. They never tire. They never lose concentration. They seldom go by instinct (unless they forget there is a Nathan Lyon at leg-slip). They remain focused, single-mindedly, on a job. And they back themselves to do it.

Which is why a de Villiers doesn’t care whether he hits a boundary in over two sessions. He knows what is expected of him and executes it to perfection: nothing more, nothing less. He knows that nothing short of taking his team to the top (and retaining that place) will be good enough.

And he is in good company.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

India tour of England 2014

Jul 27, 2014 (15:30 IST)   at Southampton

Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka, 2014

Aug 6, 2014 (10:00 IST)   at Galle

India tour of England 2014

Aug 7, 2014 (15:30 IST)   at Manchester

South Africa in Zimbabwe, 2014

Aug 9, 2014 (13:30 IST)   at Harare

Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka, 2014

Aug 14, 2014 (10:00 IST)   at Colombo

More

Afghanistan tour of Zimbabwe, 2014

Jul 24, 2014  at Bulawayo

Afghanistan won by 100 runs

South Africa tour of Sri Lanka, 2014

Jul 24, 2014  at Colombo

Match drawn

Afghanistan tour of Zimbabwe, 2014

Jul 22, 2014  at Bulawayo

Afghanistan won by 2 wkts

Afghanistan tour of Zimbabwe, 2014

Jul 20, 2014  at Bulawayo

Zimbabwe won by 8 wkts

Afghanistan tour of Zimbabwe, 2014

Jul 18, 2014  at Bulawayo

Zimbabwe won by 6 wkts

Photos

India vs England 2014, 3rd Test

Videos

Highlights of Phil Hughes' double ton

Jacques Kallis retires from international cricket: Long live the King

Jacques Kallis retires from international cricket: The last great pace bowling all-rounder

India vs England Live Cricket Score 3rd Test Day 4 at Southampton: Hosts in command

Alastair Cook England England vs India England vs India 2014 India India tour of England 2014 India vs England India vs England 2014 South Africa South Africa tour of Sri Lanka 2014 South Africa vs Sri Lanka 2014 Sri Lanka Sri Lanka vs South Africa Sri Lanka vs South Africa 2014

Virat Kohli has dinner with Michael Vaughan

Mark Waugh set to begin his new innings as national selector

Peter Siddle praises Stuart Broad

India vs England 2014, Day 4 of 3rd Test at Southampton: It will be difficult for India to save the match, says Shikhar Dhawan

India vs England 2014, Day 4 of 3rd Test at Southampton: England are desperate to win, says Joe Root

A Harry Potter XI

India vs England 2014, 3rd Test at Southampton: India’s lacklustre performance, Moeen Ali’s rise as a spinner and other highlights of play on Day 4

Jacques Kallis retires from international cricket: A symbol of genius encompassing almost two decades

Jacques Kallis retires from international cricket: Long live the King

Jacques Kallis retires from international cricket: How the legend began

Fan of the Day

Fan Cricket

Fan Cricket

11 Posts | 2 Fans

Brazil vs Netherlands, 3rd place Fifa World Cup 2014 match Video Highlights

Will Nawazuddin Siddiqui throw a success bash for Salman Khan’s Kick?

UPSC protesters torch buses, police booth in Delhi!

India vs England 3rd Test, Day 4: 5 interesting highlights of the day’s play

Do Xiaomi smartphones covertly spy on its users?

Prevent Diabetes Tip – get regular health check-ups

Rafael to miss rest of Man Utd’s tour of the USA with groin injury

Ajay Devgn gets 2500 cops shirtless in Singham Returns!

Motorola Moto G gets Rs 2,000 off on Flipkart

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here