Captain Botha takes the reins at South Australia
Johan Botha has vowed that he will not stand in the way of South Australia's young spinners this summer despite being a guaranteed starter as the state's new captain for the next two years. Botha began pre-season training on Monday in Adelaide, where he will be based for three weeks before he flies out to prepare for South Africa's tour of England and the ICC World Twenty20.
The trips will be Botha's last for his country before he focuses his attention solely on the Redbacks, who won the Ryobi Cup last summer but did not win a match in the Sheffield Shield. The state's decision to bring in Botha to replace Michael Klinger as captain, which was announced in March, was a surprise and came after he impressed the state coach Darren Berry during his stint with the Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League.
Botha has not played first-class cricket since December 2010 but Berry said his solid record with both bat and ball was secondary to his fiercely competitive nature and international experience in the decision to hand him the captaincy. Botha said he was conscious that his role in the side would need to vary depending on who else was available in any given match.
"If Nathan Lyon is there he will be the No.1 spinner. If there's anyone else coming through, say if Cullen Bailey comes through and bowls well again, then he'll be the No.1 spinner," Botha told ESPNcricinfo on Monday. "I'll be there for the support role and to help where I can. I can bat in the top six, so that helps the balance of the team. If there are guys who are bowling better than me then definitely they will be the No.1 spinner."
Botha's versatility - he averages 34.60 with the bat and 31.75 with the ball in first-class cricket - will make him a handy addition for the Redbacks, whose players are largely familiar with him through his work with the Strikers last season. However, he conceded that stepping straight in as captain in the Shield and Ryobi Cup sides would be a very different scenario.
"It is a challenge. But sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone," Botha said. "I'm going to lean big time on Maxy Klinger and Chuck [Berry] and all the experienced players to help me through, especially the first few months and the first season. I'm not just going to take it on my own to run the show my way. I'm definitely going to lean on the other guys.
"[My role is] just to give the players the freedom to express themselves. I think it's important to let the players express themselves and tell them that it's fine if you fail every now and then. On certain days one or two guys are going to perform and it's going to be their day and some days it's not going to be your day. It's important just to let the players relax and understand that."
Botha will be in charge of a side boasting several men pushing for international honours, with Daniel Christian and Callum Ferguson expected to sign new contracts within the coming days. Phillip Hughes, who has joined the state from New South Wales, is another man who will remain in the minds of the Australia selectors but Botha said it was important Hughes focused himself solely on the task at hand.
"He's an exciting player and he's the type of player who needs a bit of freedom to go out there and express himself," Botha said. "I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself. I'm sure myself and Chuck will have to relax him and tell him to just get out there and play, and not to worry about the Australian squad at the moment. Those things will take care of themselves.
"He's got a different technique but he gets the job done. I'm always happy with that. I don't necessarily want pretty looking guys in my team, I want guys who can get the results. He's going to fit right in. We're just going to let him go out there and perform for us."
Hughes and Botha will be the state's two key imports this summer as they aim to find a way to succeed in the longer format, although Botha may miss the start of the Shield season if South Africa progress to the World T20 finals. Although Botha, 30, was expected to remain an important T20 player for South Africa, he said the national coach Gary Kirsten had been understanding of his decision to move to Adelaide.
"It is a big decision but the last six months I've been training with the national side and sitting out of most of the games, especially in one-day cricket," Botha said. "I spoke to Gary and he said I'll be in the T20s but he can't guarantee my spot in one-day cricket. That made my decision a little bit easier.
"I don't know what's going to happen in the future. Myself and my family, we might never go back or we might go back after two years. It's hard to say. You never know what's going to happen in the future."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here