August 22, 2010

South Africa's future in Johan

He's only the second frontline spinner to captain South Africa. Now with Graeme Smith stepping back, Johan Botha's future as leader looks bright

You don't need too many spinning fingers to count the number of frontline slow bowlers to have captained South Africa.

One is Nicky Boje, who led the Proteas in a single one-day international, against Zimbabwe in 2005. He went wicketless (albeit tidily, conceding just 23 runs from his full quota) and was not required to bat in his team's five-wicket win. At least he, for one, will remember it well. The other is Johan Botha, the offspinner appointed on Saturday to the Twenty20 captaincy that was vacated by Graeme Smith on Wednesday.

And that's that. Just two out of the 35 men who have held the reins for South Africa across all formats, stretching all the way back to the first of their 353 Tests 121 years ago, through their 439 one-day internationals and 33 Twenty20 games - in all, 825 games of cricket - have earned their place in the team as spinners.

Does that tell us more about South African cricket than it does about Botha or more about Botha than South African cricket? Now there's a well-disguised doosra to doodle with in the weeks before Botha takes charge of two Twenty20s against Zimbabwe in October. Not that he is coming into the job untried or untested. Botha already has eight one-day captaincies and five of the Twenty20 variety to his credit.

South Africa have won three of the latter on his watch. Impressively, they have lost just one ODI under him. Even more impressively, he guided them to victory in the one-day series in Australia in 2009, in a rubber that would have won a glittering place in South African cricket folklore had it not followed the country's first-ever Test series win Down Under.

A canny, calm and calming cricketer, Botha provided unshakeable leadership in a series that demanded nothing less. But more remarkable than that is the path that he has walked in the game. Originally a seamer, then a spinner, then a bowler deemed to be armed with an illegal action, then a man who lost his place in the team to Roelof van der Merwe - who was this week described by a former selector as "a bit of an imposter, really" - and now that rare thing: a spinner entrusted with the leadership of a South African team.

There is every reason to believe, given the right amount of success and barring another awfulness over his action, that Botha will succeed Smith as one-day captain after the 2011 World Cup.

Cricket South Africa don't always get it right, but this time they probably have. AB de Villiers was touted as a contender for Smith's old job this week, and even Hashim Amla's name came up. But there are doubts in high places about de Villiers' maturity, and the Amla theory was surely taken seriously only by those who wouldn't know a legbreak from a broken leg.

"I need to make the team first," was the bearded wonder's happily snappy response on Friday night when he was asked directly what he thought of the rumours of his imminent elevation. But his time will come: Smith can't captain the Test side forever.

Botha is 28. Amla is 27. Best they invest in some shades; a bright future is theirs for the winning.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2010, 15:46 GMT

    why to we forget Pat Symcox. He was a willy old fox. good bowler. Could held his wicket at no. 8,9,10. Ok he never captained. but that does not prove he was not a captain material.

  • Mark on August 24, 2010, 12:49 GMT

    Thumbnail of Botha exposes him for the chucker that he is. Harbhajan Singh and Randiv (sp?) of SL are other blatant chuckers.

  • Dummy4 on August 23, 2010, 20:44 GMT

    I am still trying to work out why those north of the Vaal river keep pushing AB. I watched Johan Botha from the start of his provinical career - a natural leader. In SA the Warriors pioneered spin bowling in limited overs matches, Botha was an integral part of that. He should take over the 50 over team as well when the time comes. In the long run I cannot see anybody except Amla taking over from Smith as Test captain. Congratulations Johan, PE is proud of you.

  • Luke on August 23, 2010, 14:30 GMT

    The fact Harris makes the test team and Botha doesn't amazes me. Good luck to the fella - he deserves the captaincy. Why do people tout Amla as the next test captain (the only form that captaincy matters in my opinion)? Isn't Smith doing fine and have several years left in him? South Africa have forged some respect over the last few years; not the least of which is due to beating us Aussies! Don't stress about what happens with your 20/20 side - it doesn't matter what results there are in baseballcricket. Can't wait til the next tour of Aus!

  • Mark on August 23, 2010, 10:37 GMT

    Botha is a good leader and cricket thinker, despite not being the most talented spinner. The T20 format allows the selectors to judge his leadership before handing him the ODI captaincy. Let's see how he produces,

  • David on August 23, 2010, 4:26 GMT

    I can't believe how Botha has had his action deemed to be legal. He is a chucker, no question in my mind and shouldn't be allowed to play park cricket with that action, let alone Test, ODI or T20 cricket!

  • Dick on August 23, 2010, 2:27 GMT

    chucker, enough said...................

  • Mark on August 23, 2010, 0:58 GMT

    From what I've seen of Botha he is a smart cricketer, a very canny bowler and leader. He should do well for SA.

  • Daniel on August 23, 2010, 0:00 GMT

    After watching Botha's Test debut in Sydney, I didn't think that he was good enough to be a first-class cricketer, never mind a Test cricketer. When he came back in 2008-9, it was like watching a different person. His captaincy in the one-day series was brilliant and he worked out how to use the PowerPlays long before Ponting did. I think he'll be very successful as a South African captain in the short forms of the game.

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2010, 20:01 GMT

    Botha has been a good captain for all the matches he has captained SA for.. Hope he has a great comeback and the same success that he had earlier!

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