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Remembering 11 of the great Proteas Test centuries

With South Africa’s immediate cricketing future looking a little brighter following the announcement that the country will move into Level 3 of its national lockdown, we could be seeing the sport back on our screens soon. 

A two-Test series in the West Indies in late July, however, still looks highly unlikely given the international travel restrictions that remain place.

If that tour is postponed or scrapped, as is largely expected, then South Africa will only play Test cricket again at the end of the year when they host Sri Lanka over the festive season. 

That’s a long time to wait for the purest form of the game, so we thought this a good opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and recall some of the finest knocks ever played by South Africans in the format. 

We have only considered innings played post-isolation – the Proteas era – and runs alone is not the only metric used. We have also considered the match situations, the opposition and the conditions. 

As always, we encourage you to have your say! 

There are many high-quality innings that have not made it onto this list, so let us know which ones you would have included by tweeting us @Sport24news or emailing us at


11. Jacques Kallis – 101 v Australia, Melbourne 1997

He scored 45 Test centuries and is the greatest cricketer South Africa has ever produced, but this knock at the MCG was the first real glimpse of what Kallis would become. Set an unlikely 381 for victory with two full days to bat, the Proteas were given no chance. Kallis, though, had other ideas and with the help of Hansie Cronje (70) he helped rescue a draw. This entire list could be made up of Jacques Kallis innings. 

10. Neil McKenzie – 138 v England, Lord’s 2008 

In the first Test of a series that South Africa would go on to win in historic fashion, the visitors were made to follow-on and had just over two full days to bat to save the match. McKenzie batted … and batted … and batted, surviving the whole of day four. When he was eventually dismissed on day five, he had spent 10 hours at the crease and faced a staggering 447 deliveries to make the game safe. 

9. Faf du Plessis – 110 v Australia, Adelaide 2012

In one of the more memorable Proteas Test debuts ever seen, Du Plessis was a pillar of defence in this match-saving innings in the second Test. The first Test had been drawn, and the Aussies looked almost certain to go 1-0 up here. Instead, Du Plessis batted for 466 minutes, facing 376 balls to save the game. The Proteas then secured a commanding 309-run win in the third Test in Perth to clinch the series with Du Plessis’ heroics in Adelaide making that possible. 

8. Dean Elgar – 141* v Australia, Cape Town 2018

This match will forever be remembered for ‘sandpapergate’, but before any of that began stealing headlines, Dean Elgar played one of the finest opening knocks you will ever see. With the series tied 1-1 heading into Newlands, the Proteas won the toss and opted to bat. Other than a 64 from AB de Villiers, there was little else in the way of contributions. Elgar batted through the entire innings, setting up a modest first innings score of 311 that ultimately gave the hosts the edge in the series. 

7. JP Duminy – 166 v Australia, Perth 2008

In just his second Test match, Duminy delivered the Test innings of his career. Having shared an 18-run stand with Dale Steyn for the ninth wicket, Duminy guided the Proteas to 459 in their first innings and was instrumental in the Proteas winning the second Test and the series.  

6. AB de Villiers – 278* v Pakistan (Abu Dhabi, 2010)

This remains the second-highest score by a South African in Test cricket. De Villiers could have batted forever here, but Graeme Smith declared after De Villiers had broken his own standing record. There was little much else from the Proteas batsmen in this innings, which made the ease with which De Villiers scored all the more impressive. 

5. Hashim Amla (253*) and Jacques Kallis (173) v India (Nagpur, 2010)

Winning by an innings and six runs in Nagpur seems almost impossible today, but the Proteas were able to do it here after going huge in their first innings (558/6 dec). Amla and Kallis, in familiar fashion, were immense. Having been 6/2, the pair then combined to put on 340 for the third wicket as the Indian bowlers toiled. We’ve bent the rules here, obviously, but both of these knocks deserve to be on a list like this. 

4. AB de Villiers – 217* v India (Ahmedabad, 2008)

After winning the toss and batting first, India were rolled for 76 on day one. If conditions were questionable at that stage, De Villiers quickly extinguished that theory. Coming in at No 6, he was at his fluid best and hit the Indian attack to all parts with an innings as impressive as any seen on the subcontinent before. 

3. Graeme Smith – 259 v England, Lord’s 2003 

This was the second Test of a series that was Smith’s baptism after being handed the Proteas captaincy. In the first Test at Edgbaston he had smashed 277 – the highest ever individual Test score by a South African at the time. The only reason his 259 in the second Test slightly trumps that effort is because it resulted in a Proteas win. Both knocks were not from this planet, and it will forever be remembered as the Test series in which Smith emphatically arrived on the international stage. 

2. Graeme Smith – 154* v England, Edgbaston 2008

Smith made double hundreds for fun in his early days, but this knock on his return tour to England was special for different reasons. It was nowhere near his highest contribution for the Proteas, but it was so valuable. In this, the third Test of the series, South Africa were chasing 281 runs for a 2-0 lead and series victory. England, who needed a win to stay alive in the series, had the visitors reduced to 93/4. Smith, though, soldiered on, carving 17 boundaries in a 341-minute stay at the crease. It was the ultimate captain’s knock. 

1. Hashim Amla – 311* v England, The Oval 2012

Jacques Kallis (182*) and Graeme Smith (131) were superb in this innings too, but Amla was in his prime and a different class. The Proteas won the match comfortably to take a 1-0 lead in the series, but the exhibition that Amla put on was more memorable than the result. 529 balls, 790 minutes, an array of scoring shots all over the ground and, as legend has it, one pair of batting gloves! It was a masterclass from a very special player at his absolute best, and it will be remembered for generations to come.  

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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