Amla, Peterson ready to fill leadership vacuum
Robin Peterson and Hashim Amla have put their hands up to fill South Africa's leadership vacuum at the Champions Trophy. In the absence of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers has been left without two of his most important advisors, and the self-confessed uncertain leader will have to rely on other names in a largely inexperienced squad.
De Villiers is the most capped player in South Africa's squad and will shoulder tremendous responsibility in the competition. He will have to captain, keep wicket and be the senior-most batsman in a line-up that includes two players, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy, who are making a return from injury.
Although that duo is part of South Africa's new leadership core - du Plessis is the Twenty20 captain and Duminy is the next most experienced member of the squad - they will doubtlessly have their own form to focus on. It will be up to Peterson and Amla to be de Villiers' consultants, and both have expressed a willingness to assist.
Peterson is South Africa's first-choice spinner, and his 11 years as an international cricketer will come in handy in pressure situations. "I always take a leadership role where I can and I'd like to continue to do that,' Peterson told ESPNcricinfo, before the squad left for a training camp in Amsterdam at the weekend. "But we've created an environment where everyone is a leader, and I think that's the secret to [our] success."
However, it is Amla's desire to contribute as a leader again that may seem surprising. After he stepped down as vice-captain in February, it seemed Amla had walked as far away from seniority as he could. Now he finds it drawing him back in and this time, because the team needs him, he is not likely to shy away from it. "If I find the need to add value in a certain way, then I will go ahead.
"We're in a good space. Most of us are pulling in the right direction. Jacques hasn't been around the one-day game for the last year or so, so maybe the team has had a taste of it. Graeme's experience and assistance to AB will be missed but we will conduct ourselves as we normally do and keep building the team."
With a unit still in transition, outgoing coach Gary Kirsten indicated that South Africa do not enter the competition under as much pressure as they usually do. But the players are still smarting from the manner in which they exited the 2011 World Cup and last year's World T20, and are desperate to prove they can win.
"Maybe the expectations of people [are] a bit less, I'm guessing," Amla said. "But that doesn't affect the team itself. Every tournament we've been to, we've been as best prepared as we can and there's no excuse … you can't put your finger on why we haven't won. Obviously, we want to win. We want to send Gary off with a smile and fond memories of the team. It will be great for him to have an expression of the value he has given to us. It's important for us to win."
Peterson, too, believes South Africa will not be forgiven too many more slip-ups by their fans, especially as Kirsten was thought to be the man who could change their fortunes. "There is no less pressure than going to any other world event," he said. "It's going to be very tough for us, especially because a lot of [the] guys [are] going to their first world event, but this is a different team from 2011. We have grown significantly since then. Gary has added a whole new dimension."
Careful following of processes is Kirsten's biggest legacy and Peterson believes the self-belief Kirsten has gifted the unit will change the way South Africa's Achilles' heel often operates. "People talk a lot about our middle order, but they are mentally tougher than people give them credit for," he said. "It will be great to see them out there doing what they are capable of and winning matches for us."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent