For the last couple of years, a joke has been muttered by those begrudging the England team’s success that the only reason it wins is because of all the South Africans in the side. Captain Andrew Strauss, batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, and keeper Matt Prior were all born in South Africa and at various stages of life (from infancy to their early twenties) came to England. The South African side is exceptionally strong at the moment, so it’s worth asking ourselves: Would these guys get in to the side if they’d have stayed in their native lands—leaving aside all the hypotheticals regarding whether they would have turned into the players they are today?
Although he’s an exceptional captain and a strong run-scorer, Strauss isn’t quantifiably better than Graeme Smith at either captaincy or run-getting. Pietersen, however, in spite of his run of poor scores, is a man for the big occasion and difficult to leave out, while Prior is the best keeper-batsman in the world (assuming that Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara isn’t wearing the gloves). Trott is immoveable. So, here is my ideal South African side:
1. Graeme Smith / 2. Hashim Amla / 3. Jonathan Trott / 4. Jacques Kallis / 5. Kevin Pietersen / 6. A. B. de Villiers / 7. Matt Prior / 8. Vernon Philander / 9. Dale Steyn / 10. Imran Tahir / 11. Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
The batting line-up is formidable. Matt Prior averages over 45 with the bat and Philander and Steyn are more than handy with the willow. The bowling line-up is also deep, with Kallis supplementing the three seamers (Philander, Steyn, and Tsotsobe). The weak spot is spin: Tahir hasn’t proven as effective as the South Africans would like. But Pietersen could help out here with his underused spinning abilities. One could leave out Prior, give de Villiers the gloves, and bring in Morne Morkel or Ashwell Prince (depending whether you wanted to strengthen the bowling or batting), but I’d replace Tsotsobe with Morkel if necessary. What do you think?