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Is Graeme Smith currently leading the best ever South African cricket team? It’s a fair question to ask now that the Proteas can look back on “their magnificent summer” during which they beat Australia away and New Zealand and Pakistan at home.
Although it is often difficult to compare eras of several decades apart, Smith’s team can certainly stake a strong claim. The Proteas have been victorious in traditional cricket empires such as England and Australia. They have also faced foes New Zealand and Pakistan on home soil and triumphed spectacularly. But are they the best ever to don the green cap? Better even than Ali Bacher’s immortals of 1970 who humbled Australia 4-0 prior to isolation? Bacher’s team boasted all-time greats like Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Colin Bland, Peter Pollock, Eddie Barlow and Bacher himself.
How do the modern-day heroes compare? Quite favourably actually, if not in fact better. Smith is a leader par excellence, and eclipses Bacher in terms of actual performance too. Nobody in the history of Test cricket has led any team to 50 Test wins, while at the same time averaging close to 50. He is not called “the voice” by Morné Morkel for no reason.
Hashim Amla can now be spoken about in the same breath as the legendary Graeme Pollock, especially after becoming the first South African to score a Test triple-century. Then there is the imperious Jacques Kallis, the majestically talented AB de Villiers and the destroyer himself, Dale Steyn – all currently at the peak of their powers.
Smith’s troops also have the advantage of drawing from almost the entire country’s population, and while the need for black African representation has to be addressed, the team has displayed a togetherness recently that does the country proud. So, instead of comparing great teams with great teams, let’s rather salute the brilliant Proteas class of 2013.