South Africa v New Zealand, 2nd ODI, Kimberley

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

Firdose Moonda

January 21, 2013

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A

AB de Villiers made his highest score of the tour, England v South Africa, 5th NatWest ODI, Trent Bridge, September, 5, 2012
Right man? AB de Villiers' transition to the South Africa one-day captaincy has not been smooth © PA Photos

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.

AB de Villiers and Tillakaratne Dilshan at the toss, South Africa v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Johannesburg, January 22, 2012
AB de Villiers had admitted he is unsure about whether he is captaincy material © Getty Images

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ku_bo 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

Posted by lucky8791 on (January 23, 2013, 23:37 GMT)

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

Posted by viking_legend 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

Posted by adeelqadri 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. :)

Posted by Topu007 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.

Posted by SA_Scot 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

Posted by Gordo85 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.

Posted by TheCricketeer 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

Posted by 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...?

Posted by floorwalker007 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.

Posted by   on (January 22, 2013, 7:52 GMT)

Well, do not agree with the fact that Smith is the best captain SA ever had. It was Hansie Cronje. Even today they are seeking a leader with a image of Hansie in it

Posted by Topu007 on (January 22, 2013, 7:44 GMT)

I cant understand Why Crasten is sleeping?Why Smith is still in The ODI squad.They ruled out Gibbs showing a issue of new generation though on that time he was in supreme form.Why they select Farhan?I like to see Du Plese is on captain.Amla and Du pLese is on opening.AB in next then Ingram.I think he is another promising player.After than it could be De cock.I also want to see Albie iin the side.South Africa yet cant capitalize him.He is a wonderful player.In the bolwing line up.I want to see Lunabo and Dale in opening.The could take De langa or A. Tomas.

Posted by crafty-Rabbi on (January 22, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

AB is a great natural sportsman. At times a sublime batsman and a jack rabbit in the field along the lines of Colin Bland and Jonty Rhodes. But just like Herschelle Gibbs he does not strike one as being one of cricket's great thinkers or strategists.

Luckily he is leading the best team in the world so his ineptitude is concealed. He is a wonderful player to have in a team but not one to lead it. Moreover, his batting seems to be suffering as a result.

Posted by MrGarreth on (January 22, 2013, 6:17 GMT)

He has not yet lost an ODI series and we're calling for his head after losing a game to NZ by 1 wicket?? Look I never thought AB was captaincy material but at least give him a chance now that he has it.

Posted by binu.emiliya on (January 22, 2013, 5:58 GMT)

FaF is the best current option for SA!

Posted by Ayush_Chauhan on (January 22, 2013, 5:30 GMT)

I still remember, the surprise when Shaun Pollock announced that Smith would be captain after the 2003 world cup. He was young, and was a late replacement in the world cup squad. But he was given a free leash, because South Africa were in a free fall (they lost heavily under Smith initially). The captain that comes in now, does not have that comfort. Smith's replacement would be taking over a side which is at its peak right now in all formats, having said that the new captain will also have the well oiled machine with everyone knowing what needs to be done. A double edged sword this, hope Flauf can handle it.

Posted by satish619chandar on (January 22, 2013, 5:06 GMT)

Well. as far as my opinion goes, i don't see ABD as a long term captaincy option. He doesn't look a natural captain atleast to me. Whereas, Faf looks a good thinker fo the game. Why not reduce burden on ABD as he is a test keeper now by removing him from captaining the shorter form and keep him as the primary batsman in ODI/T20 with Dekock as keeper in both these formats and have ABD as WK and primary bat in tests. Allow him some space where he can keep his batting safe. he is after all one of the best batsmen in the team.

Posted by gibbs.175 on (January 22, 2013, 4:58 GMT)

How about DALE STYNE as captain........!or FAF is good too but we need ANGRY YOUNG MAN

Posted by Ericj on (January 22, 2013, 2:37 GMT)

Well, what a problem for the best team in the world! Such an issue can crop up if the same person is a successful captain for over a decade. To his credit, Smith has has taken efforts to mentor his prospective team members for the role. He is still captaining the test team. It is important that SA find a suitable replacement before Smith relinquishes his test captaincy.

New Zealand had a similar phase when Stephen Fleming captained for a long time; but Daniel Vettori took over and did a fine job. Now Ross Taylor has taken up the role and is getting better at it.

SA should probably take the West Indies model. Darren Sammy is not their best cricketer but is a simple man who knows to lead and enjoys it. SA missed a trick by not choosing Johan Botha as the captain. AB and Hashim want to become the best batsmen possible; so let them.The best batsman or player need not be the best captain. More importantly, they need to fix AB's role in the team and his batting position.

Posted by Robster1 on (January 22, 2013, 1:59 GMT)

A good, well thought through article. AB should not again captain or take the gloves for SA. Amla too is not leadership material. Du Plessis is a sound replacement potential replacement, but in Botha's regrettable and unnecessary absence could Smith once again lead the ODI side through to the next World Cup with Faf in the 20/20 role ?

Posted by Duke_of_Dubbeldraai on (January 21, 2013, 22:55 GMT)

Didn't Smith captain an ICC World XI in a test match once, making the first upcoming test against Pakistan his 100th as captain, but 99th as captain of SA?

Agreed, Faf is a natural leader and all but cemented his place in all formats. Let AB use his immense talent and play his natural game, rather than hinder it with gloves and responsibility. Some people just aren't captains and he should not be ashamed of that.

Posted by kc69 on (January 21, 2013, 20:01 GMT)

A captain is as good as his team is...i guess anyone is ok unless he has the cooperation of the entire team.

Posted by AvmanM on (January 21, 2013, 20:00 GMT)

Living in a country where cricket is unknown, I haven't watched much cricket during the last four years, but I do not understand this whole split captaincy thing that has become the norm. If Graeme Smith is playing ODIs, why isn't he still captain? When the likes of Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni are leading in 2 or all 3 formats, why are other countries scrambling to have multiple captains, and in the process causing rifts and disputes, e.g. Ross Taylor and NZ?

Posted by   on (January 21, 2013, 19:51 GMT)

AB should be given atleast 2 more series to prove him self. He shouldn't keep though in any format. Test the remaining guys behind the stumps now so that the best can cement his place. FAF should be deputy. Also JP should have been in the think tank.

Posted by ku_bo on (January 21, 2013, 18:46 GMT)

We were made to believe that AB was once captain which is wrong and I know he is so closer to Smith-captaincy is another issue. Why was Johan Botha not made a permanent captain? You better read Gibbs' book. Johan is the answer. our selectors even went to the extent of picking Tahir without checking his qualifying stay in SA -they've made a mass of it .Botha is in the sdame mould as Smith. Pleez guyz play the ball not the man and be man enough by recalling Johan as soon as possible-mind u the Aussies saw a gem in him. Again we've playing AB with an injury whereas Thami is ready to take the gloves and worse of it all this promising youngster (de Kock)career is being spoit big time. To show that the man isnt ready to take the gloves he s been making costly mistakes behind the stumps_make no mistake about it deKock is a good batsman but behind the stumps he is not yet ready and what message are we saying to Thami,Vilas.Daryl, Heino +all the other keepers.Haven't we kept Boucher for long?

Posted by tententen on (January 21, 2013, 18:10 GMT)

faf is the only captainy material available at present. botha was lost

Posted by SevereCritic on (January 21, 2013, 18:07 GMT)

Don't understand AB's problem. He has one of the most talented ODI sides at his disposal with batsmen and bowlers and all rounders far superior to most ODI teams in the world. He needs to step up or hand over captaincy to someone who can manage resources better. If ABDV is struggling with ODI captaincy, I can only imagine what Clarke or Dhoni are going through -- the former has no batsman he can rely on except himself and the latter has bowlers who wouldnt even make a SA second XI in their best days. AB has the best all rounder (Kallis), best bowler(Steyn), best ODI batsman (Amla) in the world in his squad. Cry more nubs. And they wonder why SA doesnt win any ODI silverware.

Posted by Justcoz on (January 21, 2013, 17:12 GMT)

Graeme Smith - best SA Captain?

Undoubtedly very good, but Eddie Barlow was better...

Posted by stormy16 on (January 21, 2013, 17:03 GMT)

Interesting point and SA have been bold when they appointed Smith and Faf may be its time to take the same stand with Faf. I agree that De Villers has 'lost' come of his magic after taking the gloves and captaincy and seems reluctnat within himself but doing it for the team. If this is the case SA are losing a rare talent who could be the next Kallis. I think SA are too pre-occupied with the 'balance' AB brings with the gloves while missing the real issue - the effect all of this is having on AB. This partly because there is no apparent pbvious replacement and its a case of two wrongs dont make a right. Faf is a fair bet although I knew very little of his leadership till I read this article which suggests he has had previous experience in the role and is probably (like Smith) a bold but correct move. Its rather unbelievable that this guy only a year ago was not even a certainty in any SA team and is now not only a certainly but also being looked as leadership material.

Posted by Raziulnur on (January 21, 2013, 16:55 GMT)

SA needs to find out a captain ASAP. ABD is useless as captain. He is a great batsman & let him be the best batsman. FAF could be a better choice.

Posted by elcycad on (January 21, 2013, 16:35 GMT)

well written article with great insight and history. I think Faf has shown that he thrives with extra responsibility.

Posted by Paulk on (January 21, 2013, 16:17 GMT)

In the space of 4 Test matches Du Plessis has gone from a fringe player and debutant to an integral member of the side and leadership material. That is amazing! Wish him the very best. His career path starting at 28 is reminiscent of the just retired Michael Hussey. May he follow in Hussey's footsteps to a distinguished career over the next 7-10 years.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (January 21, 2013, 16:07 GMT)

Just to point out that Faff and AB went to school together (feel sorry for teams playing against them !!) and FAFF was the captain, not AB. I am huge AB fan but mabye he is just too much of a nice guy to be the captain. Faff could be the answer and he is a naturally confident cricketer. I dont think giving it back to smith is the way forward, I think Davids should be playing in his place anyway.

Posted by ReverseStroke on (January 21, 2013, 15:27 GMT)

FaF is the next big thing to happen for SA , he has all the qualities of a great leader in standing as example for his team members to guide SA to success from the brink of defeat. he doesn't choke .. Go for it Faf , cricket is on the verge of witnessing a great leader.

Posted by Kirstenfan on (January 21, 2013, 15:10 GMT)

I think that for once Firdose is spot on - Ab, for whatever reason, has shown that he cannot juggle all the demands of being a captain, and comes across as flustered, confused and unconfident. So let's hope Faf can bring calmness and confidence is his calm way to the role, and SA can deliver the results we have the potential to in one day cricket.

Posted by cricket-india on (January 21, 2013, 14:37 GMT)

@realhotshady : no point forcing ABdeV to lead if he's not up to it. let him play as a batsman and back-up keper if that's what he wants (and as long as he's good enuf to do it) and he'll contribute much more than what he would have if he were forced to lead. give credit to ABdeV for speaking his mind, being able to understand his limitations and accepting that captaincy may not be the best thing to happen to him or for the team.

Posted by cricket-india on (January 21, 2013, 14:12 GMT)

for the long term, give it back to smith with faf as understudy. smith will only supervise from the background and attend the tosses and mandatory press conferences while faf does the actual captaincy work (bowling changes, field placements, ...). with kirsten and smith available to take the pessure off, faf can take his time to master the nitty-gritties of leadership. and he can still be the good bat that he is, because smith takes the presure of transitional leadership. the way mahela is sort of doing for sri lanka. or the way kumble did for a while before handing over to dhoni, who was always marked for captaincy. come the champs trophy, faf can be named official captain and he'll do just fine.

Posted by Realhotshady on (January 21, 2013, 14:06 GMT)

If Dhoni can captain the side, being a wicket keeper batsmen in all three formats for so many years, why AB can't do? I though African players were more fit than Indian but it looks opposite. I think its all in mind set. AB's reluctance to be involved in all 3 roles, shows his mental strength is weak rather than physical. I strongly think that he should play as a keeper, batsman and a captain without making big fuss about it.

Posted by aslamPK on (January 21, 2013, 13:48 GMT)

Yes, Smith have been the best captain for SA in last decade in alll formats. (It is sad being chokers, SA have not won a WC). Smith have constantly maintained 2nd ranking in test, whether the fisrt one is for Aus, india, or England. Off course now they are placed first in test.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (January 21, 2013, 13:44 GMT)

I think the problem with AB is that he's always put the team first and never said no. Whether it was the captaincy or keeping, he's always gone along with what team management asked of him, and I can think of many more selfish top batsmen who wouldn't have taken on either. He has tried to justify these role changes in press conferences, to make it look like the changes are always his idea, and now people criticise him for being 'indecisive'.

I think Faf is a better option as captain, but I also think more and more teams will try to avoid the banning that captains get for slow over rates. We saw a captaincy change for SL in the T20WC, and with Warne recently in the Big Bash. Soon, fringe players (not including Faf here, as he's becoming more and more important to the team) may be 'figureheads' to take any possible bans, instead of the most valuable players. Perhaps just sticking to fines for the whole team would be a better approach.

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