Bacher's boast may not be an idle one even if he has included in the list of 13 the names of Basil D'Oliveira and Tony Greig who were South African born England players. South Africa has indeed produced some of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game and it is a pity that some of them had their careers curtailed because of the country being excommunicated in 1970 for a period of 22 years.
One can really only speculate to what heights players like Mike Proctor, Clive Rice and Eddie Barlow could have reached had they enjoyed an extended run in international cricket. Barlow at least figured in 30 Tests but Proctor's career was limited to seven matches while Rice played just three ODIs, captaining the side on their return to the international fold in India in 1991-92.
Since then Brian McMillian, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis have maintained the tradition of great South African all-rounders that was set up by pioneers James Sinclair and Aubrey Faulkner. Trevor Goddard rendered yeoman service to South African cricket in his dual role in the fifties and sixties. Pollock has been outstanding while Kallis is the living legend of the contemporary game and arguably South Africa’s greatest ever player.
But even Bacher, I am sure, will concede that whereas South Africa has played a leading role in producing some of the finest all-rounders in the game, some other countries have not been far behind. England and Australia had their pioneers WG Grace and George Giffen in the late 19th century while the 20th century saw any number of world class all-rounders embellish the sport. England produced the likes of Wilfred Rhodes, Trevor Bailey, Tony Greig and Ian Botham. Australia during the same period had Charles Kelleway, Jack Gregory, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson.
The newer countries were not far behind when they entered the international fold. West Indies' first great player was Learie Constantine and the pioneering giant was followed by Denis Atkinson (the first to score a double century and take five wickets in an innings in a Test match), the peerless Gary Sobers, 'Collie' Smith and Carl Hooper who is one of only five cricketers to complete the treble of 1000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches in Tests.
New Zealand have come up with John Reid, Bruce Taylor, Richard Hadlee and Chris Cairns. India's first great all-rounder was Ladha Amar Singh even though he had a limited international career. But since then they have had two world class all rounders in Vinoo Mankad and Kapil Dev besides the moody genius that was Salim Durrani while Pakistan have produced Mushtaq Mohammed, Intikhab Alam, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram
Astonishingly Sri Lanka during their 30-odd years in Test cricket has not produced a class all-rounder with Chaminda Vaas, chiefly a bowler, being the closest to that tag. Their best all-rounder has been Kumar Sangakkara with proficiency with the bat and keeping these days befitting of the ubiquitous quality. It is a fair assessment but this column is about those players who have been in the thick of action with bat and ball.
In the last 20 years even with the increase in ODIs and the emergence of T-20 which has given rise to a number of utility or bits and pieces players as different from the tag of all rounder – the definition being one who can keep his place in the side on the strength of his batting or his bowling alone – the tradition has continued with the likes of England’s Andrew Flintoff, Zimbabwe’s Heath Streak, New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori and Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan excelling with both bat and ball.
There are a few trademarks that make the genuine all-rounder stand out. One is the feat of scoring a century and taking five wickets in an innings. This has been achieved 28 times in nearly 2100 Test matches. Ian Botham is unique in notching up the feat five times while three others Sobers, Mushtaq and Kallis have done it twice. The even rarer feat of a double hundred and five wickets in an innings has been achieved by only two players, Atkinson and Mushtaq. The equally rare feat of a century and ten wickets in a Test has been notched up by Botham and Imran while Davidson has scored a hundred runs and taken ten wickets in a match.
Though time has lengthened the gallery of great all-rounders there can be only one cricketer for the title of ''The Greatest'' and that has to be Sobers. Even Bacher while extolling the virtues of the South African all-rounders had no hesitation in naming the West Indian left-hander as ''the greatest cricketer of all time.'' Bacher also added that as captain ''it is definitely easier when you have all-rounders in your side. You are effectively playing with 13 men and that’s a huge plus.'' Indeed these multi-skilled stars are the show piece in the entertainment package that is cricket.