"Ask me what's the best side you could pick in the world and I would say 11 all-rounders. It gives a captain all the choice he needs." Thus, with Rice now a South African selector, the Proteas arrive in England this week packed with enough all-round strength to turn an English selector as green as the Lord's outfield. Shaun Pollock, Brian McMillan and Lance Klusener are the genuine article, all-rounders in the Rice mould; Jacques Kallis and Hansie Cronje are fine top-order batsmen who bowl; Pat Symcox and Allan Donald - the likely 10 and 11 - bowlers who bat. As England still search for another Ian Botham, it is all-round depth that could tilt this summer's series South Africa's way.
"We've had a tradition of all-rounders here since the days of Mike Procter," explained Rice. "We've always promoted players who can do everything and always had bowlers who can bat. South African players want to get involved." Ironically, Rice believes the years of isolation helped entrench this enthusiasm. "Our players are hungry. If they don't make runs they want to take wickets, and vice-versa. Just look at Allan Donald. Ten years ago you could get him out in three balls. Now you can rely on him to score 20 or 30 in a Test. And he bats 11."
Shaun Pollock, however, is the jewel in the crown. "If he was a horse at a yearling sale you would just look at his breeding and pay anything," says Rice. "He's the best all-rounder in the world." Son of fast-bowler Peter, nephew of master batsman Graeme, he has, in his coach Bob Woolmer's words, "all the right genes". Pollock will bat at seven but Rice believes he could easily be a Test No 5. "He regularly gets 70s and 80s and runs out of partners which I find frustrating. But when you see he's also the fourth-ranked bowler in the world, then you realise he's something unique. Along with Allan Donald, he's our most important player."
Three years ago, Brian McMillan was. South Africa's 1-0 win over Mike Atherton's team in 1995 owed much to McMillan's middle-order consistency and fast-medium bowling. "He was the difference between the two sides," Atherton said at the time.
Dropped against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, McMillan is a surprise selection. His bowling powers may be on the wane, but Rice thinks he will add balance and experience. "We chose him mainly as a batsman who bowls, but we also have a lot of young players and we need him to help them through."
It is Klusener, the little-known Natalian, who could be the real surprise. "You may not know about him now but you'll know about him by the end of the summer," warned Rice. A powerfully built 27-year-old, Klusener plays with a childlike enthusiasm, bowling as fast as he can right-handed, hitting the ball as hard as he can left-handed. His confrontation with Mohammed Azharuddhin at Eden Gardens in 1996, his first Test, defines his determination. Azhar smashed him out of the attack in the first innings, hitting him for five fours in one over. In the next innings, with Donald unable to bowl, Klusener took 8 for 64, including Azharuddhin, and won the Test. A month later in Cape Town, he hit 100 in 100 balls against the same Indian side. "He hits the ball as hard as anyone I've seen," says Rice, "but he also bowls as consistently fast as Donald. I expect him to get lots of wickets."
Of the others, Kallis is closest to genuine all-rounder status. The 23- year-old scored his first Test hundred in Australia in November batting at three, and according to Cronje "is also our best swing bowler". Ominously, he seems suited to English conditions. At Middlesex in 1997 he averaged 47 and took 32 wickets at 20 apiece. Cronje, meanwhile, established at No 5, will bowl economically in both Tests and one-day games. He has 78 one-day wickets and 26 Test scalps - including Sachin Tendulkar three times.
For all their all-round strength, however, South Africa have one of the worst top-order batting sides in world cricket. Not one of the top six averages 40. "We've never found a replacement for Graeme Pollock," lamented Rice. But while scores of 90 for 5 and 150 for 7 are frequent, the lower- order consistently bails them out. With Klusener at nine, Pat Symcox could bat at 10. Three months ago he scored a century against Pakistan. It is hard to imagine an England No 10 doing the same.Reuse content