South Africa v New Zealand, 2nd ODI, Kimberley January 21, 2013

South Africa still looking for a one-day leader

Most parts of South Africa's cricket are running smoothly at the moment, but that is not the case with the captaincy of the one-day team

A captain by any other name should manage just as well. That must be what South African cricket thought when the process to replace Graeme Smith as limited-overs leader began in August 2010.

Two and a half years on, they have been through four captains but have not found a long-term replacement. The search for someone who has security in team position, aptitude, and the willingness to do the job full time is still on, as concerns grow about AB de Villiers' suitability. It is something South Africa have to address seriously as they plan for three ICC events in three years.

Johan Botha was initially named Smith's successor and he was a good choice. Botha is a natural leader who is comfortable enough with himself to know when to delegate and when to take charge. His tactical acumen is solid and he thinks about the game in interesting ways.

But Botha was not kept in the frame for long. He was stripped of the role 11 months on, when South Africa's management structure changed. Following that, he was slowly shifted out of the team to its fringes. Eventually, sensing the end was near, he asked to be released from his national contract to take up a position at South Australia, where he would captain the state team in all formats. Botha last played for South Africa at the World Twenty20 last September and all indications from both him and the administrators are that he will not return to the fold.

When Botha was dislodged, a new think tank was put in place, with de Villiers and Hashim Amla as Smith's sidekicks. Although de Villiers had never captained a team before, at any level, his enthusiasm and team-man attitude made it seem he was perfect for the job. Amla was a less obvious choice, having always shied away from leadership, but he excitedly said he was ready for a different challenge and understood he would be de Villiers' understudy in limited-overs teams, even though he was not a regular in the T20 side at the time.

It has been 18 months since those decisions were made and questions are being asked about whether they were the correct ones. De Villiers appears increasingly uncomfortable with the role and Amla has shunned his part in it. Instead Faf du Plessis, who at the time of the appointments was only just starting to establish his place in the ODI side but has since become a regular across all three formats, has captained South Africa in a T20 series and will now take charge of the rest of the ODI series against New Zealand because of de Villiers' suspension.

A slow over rate cost de Villiers the chance to immerse himself in the intricacies of captaincy, as was the plan for this series. To that end, he gave up the wicketkeeping gloves so he could get a different perspective on the game.

It was this time last year, almost to the day, that de Villiers captained South Africa for the first time, against Sri Lanka in Paarl. South Africa won convincingly after scoring 301 and bowling Sri Lanka out for 43. De Villiers was hugely satisfied with the win but looked hassled. He confessed that because things had happened so fast, he wasn't able to have sufficient time with his bowlers to discuss field placements and strategies, and said he felt out of control as the match went on.

He has been in charge in nine more ODIs and eight T20s. Before this series, he said almost exactly the same thing he did after the crushing win over Sri Lanka. He still felt he needed to be closer to the bowlers so that he could communicate better with them and he said felt rushed on the field.

Long before he was considered captaincy material, de Villiers made it clear he wanted to become the best batsman in the world and did not want to keep wicket. He has since, in the words of convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson "changed his mind" to the point where he was willing to sacrifice a year of his career to do the job

That his concerns were almost identical to what they were a year ago could simply mean de Villiers needs more time to get to grips with captaincy. It could also point to his own uncertainty and indecisiveness, two traits that should appear only in very small quantities in a captain's kit but seem to feature more with de Villiers.

To illustrate that, consider that not only has he struggled to get to grips with leadership, he has also continually wavered about his role in the team. Long before he was considered captaincy material, de Villiers made it clear he wanted to become the best batsman in the world and did not want to keep wicket. He has since, in the words of convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson, "changed his mind" to the point where he was willing to sacrifice of "a year of my career" because of his bad back, to do the job.

When de Villiers was asked to take over as a limited-overs captain, it was put to him that the triple task of keeping, leading and batting would be too much. De Villiers did not agree with such suggestions. Neither did those who appointed him, specifically Gary Kirsten, although he has also changed his mind about that now and said he was "always concerned" the burden on de Villiers would be too great.

As a result, they have had to make a plan to rest de Villiers so he can continue keeping in Tests. He passed the gloves on in limited-overs, a dual solution that also allowed him to "focus on captaincy." It appeared a clever solution to all de Villiers' concerns but it did not ease the one about his ability, not willingness, to captain.

De Villiers continually claims to be unsure of the skills needed and the style of captaincy he should adopt. He has yet to find his way despite a reasonable amount of time in the job. He could have had even more time if he had gone to the unofficial T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe to June last year.

Instead it was Amla who took South Africa to that event, as a vice-captain rightly should. The same Amla who now wants the armband as far away from his shirt as the alcohol-manufacturer sponsor's logo.

Although Amla captained South Africa at Under-19 level and had a stint in charge of Dolphins, he has always been a reluctant leader. At Dolphins his period as captain coincided with a lack of personal runs, and that seems to have put him off captaining for good.

Still, Amla stood in for de Villiers once, in what was supposed to be de Villiers captaincy debut, against Australia in October 2011. De Villiers picked up an injury at the Champions League, so Amla led South Africa to a T20 series draw and ODI series loss. His own form suffered and he indicated it was not a job he would want again.

That view has not changed. When ESPNcricinfo spoke to a source close to the team minutes after news broke that de Villiers was ruled out of the remaining ODIs against New Zealand, they said it was unlikely Amla would take over. A CSA release later confirmed that Amla wanted to "concentrate on his batting" and that the selectors would grant him his wish.

Amla, like Jacques Kallis, obviously wants no part in captaincy. In being largely left alone to play his own game, Kallis has given South Africa more than any other cricketer. Amla may do the same. In which case he has to lose the vice-captain tag. He probably won't even notice its gone.

It should probably go the way of du Plessis, who has emerged as a candidate to take over the main job too. Du Plessis was a captain at school level and a former leader of South Africa's A side, and seems to enjoy the extra responsibility.

Promoting him, maybe even above de Villiers, should not be seen as an insult to de Villiers or Amla. It should rather be seen as responding to the changing times. When de Villiers was put in charge of the limited-overs teams he was not the Test wicketkeeper and his concerns about the captaincy had not been developed. Circumstances and experiences may require a shift in policy.

A decade of Smith meant that South African cricket had not had to debate about another leader for most of that time. Even when doubts about Smith started to emerge, it was always clear that he had the ability to lead and the presence that would prompt others to follow him. In two weeks' time, Smith will captain South Africa for the 100th occasion in a Test match. He is undisputedly the best captain this country has had, and if they want another like him, sensible decisions must be made to find one.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • nono on January 24, 2013, 20:51 GMT

    The man to captain our country is Johan Botha -why was he sidelined-the inner circle of CSA not the administrators but certain players ,selectors & the coach. THE aUSSIES ARE ALWYZ MILES AHEAD OF US whether we like it or not so they seen some good stuff from Johan. Bring him back cos Smith 's days are numbered. I stil maintain that Albie is our best no7 but he too is sidelined-you be the jugde.Wake up before its too late Mr Hudson. By the way who are the other selectors-understandable they are all CSA employees from the High Performance Centre. How many players come from this HPC? I like how Pakistan do their talent identification at tyms i.e. just taking players at club level straight to their national side as compared to our one dimensional way of playing SA schools, U19. Academy ,HPC etc

  • Lucky on January 23, 2013, 23:37 GMT

    Why is Khallis not in? He needs to keep on playing ODI to be conisdered the best.

  • Vikesh on January 22, 2013, 13:03 GMT

    AB is being forced to accomodate the selectors. He should just say no and focus on being the best batsman in the world along with Amla and Kallis.

    Faf hasnt proved himself as captain material yet but he seems like the favourite person and he is willing to take on the post. Ingram wouldnt be a bad bet as VC.

    I feel SA ODI squad are way short on quality. We have specialist batsman and specialist bowlers but no one new is really picking their hand up. All the newbies havent proved themselves yet other than Faf.

    Where are all the big hitting all rounders. Surely we can do better than Mclaren. Even Ablie was better (slightly). We havent had a decent all rounder since Lance Klusener and before anyone seldges me about Kallis, he hardly bowls these days. ESPN has Farhaan down as a "fast bowler".....maybe Faf should stop his lolipop leg spin and give Farhaan a run.

    I hope to see Aaron, Miller, Farhaan, Ingram and De Kock really start owning their places in the squad

  • Adeel on January 22, 2013, 12:37 GMT

    would it had been Pakistani team, All playing 11 would have wanted to be the Captain. lolzz... amazing how ppl like Amla, Kallis refuse captaincy.. here we fight, and do conspiracies to become a captain. :)

  • Topu on January 22, 2013, 12:32 GMT

    I am still not convinced with this line up.I want to see Smith and Farhan out,Albie and Botha In.

  • Thomas on January 22, 2013, 12:14 GMT

    @TheCricketeer, I like the way you are thinking. Couple revisions to your selections I would suggest. De Kock IS a very destructive looking young batter, irrespective of keeping. Let HIM keep. Lets him mature and get lots of ODI's under his belt, and lets AB and Faf prowl the covers. IF Ontong were to play also, that would also have Petersen and Ontong in the inner ring, my Goodness, what a fielding quartet!

    Rory, dunno about him in ODI. Maybe that Chris Morris guy at 9 for me, once we see his bowling in ODI's.He looks a fearsome batter you see, more so than Rory on current evidence.

    Ontong was my other *possible* change, but based on your batting all-rounder logic, and having another spinner....I guess that works. I presume Duminy would take on that responsibility when he, in batting order in 4 months time, I'd have: 1.Amla 2.Kallis 3.Faf 4.AB 5.Duminy (Ontong) 6.Miller (Huge hit) 7.De Kock (Big Hit) 8.Morris (Big Hitter) 9.Petersen 10.Steyn 11.Morkel

  • Gordon on January 22, 2013, 11:46 GMT

    Faf and Amla are simular as far as captains go they or one of them needs to get more experience for the future because it is no good not changing the field often enough and getting lazy about it. The more a person does it generally the better at it they get and if they don't after a long time then it may be time to find someone else.

  • Keiran on January 22, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    I think with an immediate focus on winning the Champions Trophey De Villiers should keep. If that means Faf should take on the captaincy so be it.

    Some other adjustments I think are probably required:

    - Smith (I'm his biggest fanboy) needs to go. He has had one significant ODI innings in recent memory. Not good enough in this format I am afraid.

    - Kallis needs to play. Maybe as an opener?

    - Along with Kallis I would like to see another batting alrounder. 3 Bowling all rounders is leaving the tail looking a little vulnerable and that heaps pressure on the top 6.

    - I think a second spinner (maybe the batting allrounder) is useful. SA's best period in ODI's in the last ten years was when we had Van Der Merwe and Botha regularly in the same team and other sides have shown the value of spinners in all conditions in ODI's. Pitches around the world are becoming overused and low and slow.

    So: Amla,Kallis,AB,FAF,Ingram,Miller,Ontong,Petersen,Kleinveldt,Steyn,M.Morkel

  • nandhi on January 22, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    Hello all.... At least now let us realize the magnificent and graceful performance from Dhoni the keeper,batsman and Captain. he has gone through all this for last 6 years and carrying it with elan...common we got to give it to him,isn't he too good...?

  • Hanro on January 22, 2013, 8:11 GMT

    A great cricket player doesn't always make a great captain!

    Take for example that as captain AB de Villiers has batted himself out of position more often than not. As captain and one of the best batsmen in the world he should back himself and also carry that responsibility to come in at 4 and NOT 5 or 6!

    The mere fact that he has not been captain on any other level should tell you enough. On the other hand Faf du Plessis has been captain and even with AB in their school team.

    In the T20 Faf has looked every bit the part of the legendary captains of the past (Hansie Cronje & Steve Waugh the first to spring to mind). He backed himself even so far as to open the batting and delivered with the bat.

    That is the type of captain that you want. One that steps up for the team and delivers, instead of shying away. Also, Faf seems like a captain that will be able to manage the likes of AB to become the greats they are meant to be.