May 22, 2014

Amla's big chance

He might bring a calmness and serenity to a cricketing culture that has too often been unable to think clearly under pressure

Hashim Amla possesses a determination and steeliness that will serve him well if he is appointed captain © Getty Images

Not since South Africa's readmission into international cricket has there been so much speculation about who their next Test captain will be. What appeared to be a two-horse race never was. CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat suggested as much, when he last week urged the selectors to look beyond the running favourites. The selectors have more to do, though.

The present focus may be on the next Test captain but what will it mean for the leadership in the other formats of the game? What complicates the matter further is that past decisions have done the selectors no favours and the solution, or lack thereof, could have a positive or negative impact, not only on one or two careers but the team as a whole. The whole process could be a very simple or complicated one for them, depending on who they nominate and the reasons for this. South African cricket is a complex animal and those who finally make the decision may not necessarily make it for cricketing reasons only.

The two obvious contenders were AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, who presently captain in the 50-over and T20 format respectively. De Villiers has for some time now been the popular choice to succeed Graeme Smith and one feels he should have nailed down the job by now, but the fact that he hasn't tells a story in itself. Du Plessis was not convincing in the recent T20 World Cup in Bangladesh, where his stubbornness in defending team strategy against popular opinion did him no favours at all. Lorgat's statements may have been in light of the doubt surrounding both candidates but I do believe it was a warning that another contender had been in the fray all along.

It is now reliably confirmed that Hashim Amla, de Villiers and du Plessis will present to the selectors their vision for the future of South African cricket and why they should be captain. Amla made it clear in the past that he wanted no leadership role but his change of heart has been very good news for South African cricket.

Added to the selectors' task, and one just as important, is that they need to decide on whether to keep the status quo of having the captaincy split three ways or do they look to change this? It was under Gary Kirsten's watch that South Africa went the route of three different captains. Granted, Graeme Smith was not playing much limited-overs cricket then, so Kirsten had no choice but to look at other possibilities. He decided to split the captaincy in the limited-overs formats between de Villiers and du Plessis. Odd at the time as one would have thought that de Villiers, who was the more senior and more established player, would be asked to do both. One can only surmise that Kirsten was either unsure of the long-term candidate and was giving both the opportunity to prove themselves, or he wanted to decrease de Villiers's workload.

Whatever the reason was, it's important now, with the rebuilding phase South African cricket is going through, that the leadership position not be fragmented as players would prefer to identify with one coach and one captain. It also makes no sense to do this when all three candidates play across all three formats and will for some time to come.

I recall the late Hylton Ackerman telling me in 2002 that Amla would go on to be a great player and future captain of South Africa. There was no one more knowledgeable on the game than Ackerman

So who is the best man to do all three jobs? I don't believe it is de Villiers or du Plessis. While they may not make bad captains they will not make memorable ones. They are too similar in their thinking and approach and doubt exists about their tactical feel and nous for the game. Another reason is not a cricketing one. They first played schoolboy cricket together. While de Villiers had a brilliant start to his international career, du Plessis battled for some time to get beyond first-class cricket. When he eventually broke into the international squad, a healthy competitive relationship between the two was immediately evident. However, I do fear this may become strained in the captaincy race. Both have made it quite clear that they want to be the top dog and I don't believe the loser will accept this graciously.

It would make things so much easier if one was clearly the better option but this is not so and the result could well be an unnecessary dynamic that will not be good for the team or their own games. Why potentially have this, when you have in Amla just as good if not a better option? It will be a massive blow for both de Villiers and du Plessis. One will go from incumbent captain and potential Test captain to a vice-captain at best. One will lose out altogether.

There is one more step to go and that's the most important of all. The overriding say in the appointment of South Africa's captain will be the board's. It would come as no surprise that their brief to the selectors is that they would favour a captain of colour. This could very well be why Amla has made himself available, and he may even have been persuaded to do so. CSA has made no bones about it, and this has been reflected in recent coaching appointments, that transformation and political correctness are higher on their agenda than ever before.

South Africa are yet to have a captain of colour (save for Ashwell Prince, who captained in two Tests) and the majority of those who are party to the decision will lobby hard for it. I will go so far as to say that Amla already has the job. I recall the late Hylton Ackerman telling me in 2002 that Amla, who was then part of his national academy squad, would go on to be a great player and future captain of South Africa. There was no one more knowledgeable on the game than Ackerman.

Personally, I believe Amla's appointment can only be good for South African cricket. If I read him correctly, he would be everything but the tough-talking, in-your-face stereotype captain we see too much of these days. A quietly spoken and deeply religious man, he might bring a calmness and serenity to a cricketing culture that has too often tripped up on its inability to think clearly and intelligently under pressure, and an ego that still refuses to accept and recognise this. I hope he will stay true to himself and the very image that he effortlessly and genuinely portrays. It would make for such a refreshing change for South Africa.

Some believe that he will not be strong enough to impose himself both on and off the field. A man who plays the way he does and so successfully, has to have a determination and steeliness that can only prove that opinion wrong. Not enough is known of his ability to inspire those around him, or whether he will leave everyone respectful of his tactical feel and appreciation for the game but I trust Ackerman's opinion on this. I look forward to seeing how Amla goes about his business and so too will the whole cricketing world because he will create that sort of interest.

Daryll Cullinan played 70 Tests for South Africa between 1993 and 2001

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on May 26, 2014, 9:32 GMT

    Amla may be a brilliant cricketer, but is untested as leader and captain. Suggesting he will get the job as an AA move is also a little worrying, especially if he is being pushed into it. Will Amla have the intensity needed to inspire those around him. In the past he gave up the vice captaincy to concentrate on his batting, this may suggest that his batting may falter with the responsibility of being captain. SA is in a sad position of no strong candidate as test captain, and they will have to settle for the best of the rest. AB is the popular choice, but I have never been a fan of his captaincy. He is a batsman and that should be what he does. Faf, although not cemented in the side, does appear to be a better captain than AB. However, you cannot have a captain who is not an automatic selection. The problem lies with the coach though...who in my view will not be a good guide to any new leader.

  • Bruce on May 24, 2014, 0:58 GMT

    No point comparing the SA captain to Mark Taylor or Michael Clarke. Those guys only ever needed to concern themselves with cricketing matters, that is not the case for the SA captain who has a far greater and wide ranging responsibility. Other countries enjoy the luxury of selecting the best captain, SA has to select the best leader. Hashim Amla would be an inspired choice. He will be his own man just as Graeme Smith was when he was appointed. Interestingly it was Haroon Lorgat who was one of the main instigators of Smiths appointment and he is once again going to be at the forefront of this appointment. It's going to be a tough decision for the board, because Amla won't be wearing the obligatory sponsors cap at press conferences and award ceremonies and we all know how important that has become in the modern sporting world! The fact he is even being considered for the role speaks volumes for the esteem in which he is held in SA cricket and for me that makes him the natural choice.

  • John on May 23, 2014, 19:19 GMT

    Thank you @applethief for pointing out my faux pas,but in all honesty Cricket South Africa could do a lot worse than appointing Hashim Amla as Captain.He is in my opinion a World Class No.3, and with AB De Villiers at No.4,surely the foundation of a very strong middle order.

  • Dummy4 on May 23, 2014, 2:21 GMT

    i hope Hashim amla is the best capten

  • James on May 23, 2014, 1:55 GMT

    I disagree with Cullinan's reasoning, although I don't necessarily think Amla is a bad choice for captain. He says that we see too much of the "tough-talking, in-your-face stereotype captain" these days and seems to think Amla's "calmness and serenity" is the answer. However, it's tactical nous that matters and this isn't related to being tough or calm. Look at Michael Clarke and Mark Taylor - two completely different captains who (in my view) are both very good at the job. It doesn't matter that one gets aggressive with the opposition while the other calmly chews gum at slip. What primarily makes them both good captains is their shrewd thinking; that ability to be pro-active at the right time and not just let the game unfold; the willingness to take a risk if the possible reward warrants it. SA need a captain with that ability and attitude, and that is what the decision should be based on.

  • adeel on May 23, 2014, 1:42 GMT

    Amla is the best batsman and cricket in the world today. no doubt about it.

    but i think SA are making a big mistake if they make him the captain. not doubting his abilities as captains but it will create a tense environment with Faf and AB who are already captains in odi and T20. now for both to loose out and then be Amla's captain in T20 and ODI would make for soap opera no less than a Days of our lives!!

    another main issue with it is that his batting form could go down quite quickly. captaining a side is not easy these days. SA could lose a batsman who has become the backbone of their side esp after kallis and smith retired. so if he is chosen for right or 'wrong' reasons (most likely wrong!), i reckon SA would have killed the goose that scores them golden Runs !

  • Brady on May 23, 2014, 1:34 GMT

    As an introvert, I would love to see more introverted players in the captains role in test cricket. However, I would question whether Amla has the natural air of authority required to captain a team like SA.

    @anton_ego on (May 22, 2014, 9:30 GMT) : Not true about silly point. Ponting spent many hours fielding there while captain.

  • I on May 23, 2014, 1:03 GMT

    @ eggyroe Jumping the gun a bit, he's not given the captaincy yet! I think he'd make a top captain, but I can't see CSA going for anyone by de Villiers. But I wouldn't be surprised if the captaincy is up for debate again in a couple of years' time

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2014, 23:05 GMT

    Steohen Cook to replace Smith, as opener and captain would be my choice.

  • Weird on May 22, 2014, 19:20 GMT

    I was always under the impression that Hashim Amla did not want the captaincy, mainly because of the reasons that @Barry-john Wyman had previously stated. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what transpires.

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