Picking a Combined South Africa and Australia Best XI
South Africa and Australia will begin a three-match Test series next week. Michael Clarke has repeatedly made it clear who he thinks has the best bowling line-up. Graeme Smith, meanwhile, said at the pre-series press conference I attended that after playing Australia enough times, "you learn to cut through the bull... dot, dot, dot."
There is no doubt that it's going to be a tightly-contested series and while South Africa are involved in a warm-up game made up of some fringe players, Australia have to stick to training because their one tour match was abandoned due to torrential rain. But what if the two teams were to combine to make up one super power side?
There's enough talent to go around to make up a pretty mean combination. Share your thoughts of who should be in or out of the Combined XI that's not listed here.
*All stats from ESPN Cricinfo.
1. Graeme Smith
When it comes to gritty, tough series, there is no one else you'd rather want on your team. Graeme Smith is a terrier, especially in the fourth innings.
A solid opening batsman who, when he is in the zone, can bat until the cows come home. With an overall average of 49.56, 27 hundreds and 38 fifties to his name in over 100 Tests, Smith is a veteran who would walk into almost any Test side.
But it's runs at crunch time that mark him out. He averages 55.31 batting in the fourth innings and has scored nine fifties and four hundreds there.
Although he is an astute captain and South Africa's most successful one ever, Smith misses out on the captaincy for the purposes of this exercise. To find out who earns that honour, scroll on.
2. Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers might not be as flash and flamboyant as David Warner, but he is consistent. Although Warner scored more runs than him in the recent Ashes series (523 vs. 463), Rogers does have the temperament to survive longer spells against a barrage of hostile bowling—there'll be no shortage of that in South Africa.
Rogers scored one more 50 than Warner and although all his runs came at a much lower strike rate, you want somebody who can knuckle down and wear down the spirits of the bowlers in South African conditions.
3. Hashim Amla
Another silent warrior who can bat for days, Hashim Amla's serenity at number three is everything you need if things start falling apart. Amla averages 51.34 overall, with 20 hundreds and 27 fifties next to his name. There are only two countries (Sri Lanka and West Indies) against whom he averages under fifty.
Although he has had a few blips with the bat as of late, having not gone past 36 in his last four innings, he rarely has a run of poor form stretching more than three Tests.
4. Michael Clarke (captain)
Michael Clarke had a fair Ashes series, with 363 runs at an average of 40.33, including two hundreds—but over recent times, he's been consistently one of the world's best.
When his back isn't giving him trouble, Clarke can be frightening. He pips Smith to the captaincy role because he is a more modern captain, and with the Australia team so up and down of late, he has had to learn to take more risks. Although some of his decisions sometimes raise an eyebrow or two, Clarke will be kept in check by Smith in this fantasy team.
5. AB De Villiers (wk)
AB de Villiers is one of the most adaptable, exciting players in world cricket today. No matter what the situation calls for, De Villiers has the ability to play to it. Last year, he averaged 77.75 in nine Tests and the year before that, 58.21 in 10 Tests.
He's also not all that bad with the gloves in hand and using him as a 'keeper frees up an extra position down the order for an extra bowler or batsman.
Although he has had some injury troubles in the past and has had hand surgery between the India series and this one, those are gone for the most part and he can merrily wear the gloves for as long as needed in the foreseeable future.
6. Faf Du Plessis
The number six position has been much debated. There were three contenders: David Warner to add a bit of spice in the middle, Brad Haddin and finally, Faf du Plessis.
Haddin and Warner were both impressive during the Ashes, but Du Plessis ultimately earned the nod for his ability to shepherd the tail and dig in when it's really required. He's only played 11 Tests, but he averages 60.15 in those and has saved South Africa's backside time and time again with some remarkable innings.
7. Vernon Philander
Vernon Philander is not only a mean bowling machine, he's no fool with the bat either. He has two first-class hundreds and nine fifties and can adapt his game to more than just a slog through the line approach if it's needed.
However, that's not the main purpose of his inclusion. His bone-straight bowling has seen him race to 105 wickets in 20 Tests at an eye-watering average of 18.00. As the man himself once said: "Stats don't lie".
8. Mitchell Johnson
Mitchell Johnson is back to cult-level status after the Ashes in Australia. With 37 wickets in five Tests at an average of 13.97, Super Mitch was the pick of the bowlers.
Left-arm aggression adds an extra option to the bowling line up and his snarling and sledging adds extra spice to the contest.
He could flop this series, or he could be devastating, but it's impossible to leave him out.
9. Dale Steyn
Whoever is set to face this fantasy bowling line-up is probably trying to dream up illnesses to get out of it. Dale Steyn can lead the attack alongside Mitchell Johnson and God be with whoever is opening the batting for the opposition.
Since 2010, Steyn's bowling average has hovered at below 20.00 and last year, it was just 17.66 after nine Tests with 51 wickets to boot. His pace, aggression and ability to take wickets on flat decks is something which sets him apart from his contemporaries.
History will remember him as the finest fast bowler of his generation, so he'd make this team or any other team in world cricket, come to that.
10. Ryan Harris
Ryan Harris is a risky inclusion simply because he is so prone to injury. He had to delay knee surgery to take part in the Ashes and will stretch it out even further for the South African series. Harris is a trooper, though and his 22 wickets at an average of 19.31 in the Ashes were well deserved.
And if he were to break down, you'd have to think Steyn, Johnson, Philander and our last bowler on the team could shoulder the workload.
To ensure an even balance of Australian and South African faces in this Combined XI, Harris pips Morne Morkel, the king of turning the screws on the run rate, to a place in the side.
11. Nathan Lyon
With a bowling line-up so packed full of quicks and with Faf du Plessis able to turn his arm over, including a spinner is debatable.
One could easily add Morne Morkel to the mix for a holding role or add an extra batsman to ensure a more stable top order. If this fantasy game is being played on South African tracks, a spinner isn't exactly going to have a massive impact.
Alas, years of conservative selection forced the selectors' hand and Lyon makes it in as a token spinner. He's not the worst tweaker ever—19 wickets at an average of 29.36 in the Ashes proves as much. But Lyon isn't exactly going to be challenging the great spinners around the world such as Saeed Ajmal for their place in the team either. He gets the nod, for now.
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