South Africa returned to the international cricket fray on 10 November 1991 when they played India in front of a capacity crowd at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Since then, there have been a total of 2097 One Day Internationals played, and the Proteas have dominated the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI all-rounders to a massive degree:
ODIs at #1
At first glance, you might think that this might be just down to one outstanding individual. However, in the past sixteen and a half years, no fewer than four South Africans have topped the table, all leading for extended periods of time. Jacques Kallis has been top for 439 matches, Shaun Pollock 331, Hansie Cronje 249, and Lance Klusener 195.
In the Test arena, the South African dominance is even more striking. There have been 707 Test Matches played since South Africa’s return against the West Indies at Bridgetown in early 1992, and only eight different men have topped the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test all-rounders over that time. However, the three longest stints have all belonged to players from the rainbow nation – Jacques Kallis (328 matches), Brian McMillan (110) and Shaun Pollock (104).
Tests at #1
But what is it about South Africa that keeps producing these world-class all-rounders? Could it be the climate or maybe even the wine? Australia dominated world cricket in both formats of the game over this time period but were without a world-class all-rounder who could both bat and bowl (it could be argued that Adam Gilchrist should be classed as an all-rounder). The only Aussies to have topped the table over this period were the Waugh brothers, but even they would freely admit that they were both batsmen who bowled rather than true all-rounders.
On a final note, perhaps it is unsurprising to discover that the only man to have topped both the Test batting and bowling Rankings is a South African. You need to go back to the early years of the century to find him, but Aubrey Faulkner displaced Jack Hobbs from top place in the batting table for the whole of 1911. Subsequently, when Test cricket resumed after the First World War, Faulkner replaced the now-retired Sydney Barnes as the top rated bowler. With the break in play for nearly seven years due to the fighting, the South African was the top rated all-rounder for an unbroken spell of eleven and a half years, which has only ever been surpassed by Garry Sobers from 1962 to 1974.