Was 'prepared' to lose T20 captaincy - Botha
Johan Botha, the South Africa allrounder, has admitted to being "disappointed but prepared" after being stripped of the national Twenty20 captaincy earlier this year. Botha was announced as Graeme Smith's successor to lead the Twenty20 team in August last year and was widely tipped to become ODI captain as well, but lost out on both jobs when AB de Villiers was named captain in June.
"The captain must be the first pick in the team and with all the spinners around at the moment it's difficult to say who the No.1 is, so I knew it was unlikely I would become captain," Botha told ESPNCricinfo. Botha's ascendency was forced backward during the 2011 World Cup, when the emergence of Pakistan-born legspinner Imran Tahir and the form of left-arm spinner Robin Peterson left him fighting for his place in the starting XI.
Botha's suspicions that he would not be the next captain were confirmed when Andrew Hudson, convenor of selectors, hinted that the appointment would aim to promote continuity. "I thought they would look for someone who would be able to take over from Graeme [Smith] as Test captain one day and so that would mean looking for someone who plays all three formats, so I knew it couldn't be me - I don't play all formats," he said. Botha has only played in five Tests in his career, as a second-spinner behind Paul Harris.
de Villiers' was unveiled as captain in June, when Botha was overseas, contracted as a Twenty20 professional in the United Kingdom by county side Northamptonshire. Having almost expected it, Botha was able to deal with his emotions maturely. "I was busy playing and so I got over the disappointment quickly," he said.
He is able to acknowledge the credentials of his colleague with no malice and is even hoping he will be able to play a part in assisting de Villiers. "He is a great player and he will do a good job. I think it this will really lift his game," Botha said. "I will give him as much as he can take. It's not every day that you ask for something of the senior players but sometimes you do need them in a match situation and I will contribute then."
More pressing in Botha's mind is wresting back his berth in the side. "I didn't get as many wickets as Imran or Robin in the World Cup but I did my job, which was to contain at one end so guys got wickets at the other end." Botha has been hailed for his ability to boss over the middle overs of the match with the ball and squeeze the opposition for runs. He thinks there is still room for him to play that role in that future. "Morne [Morkel], Dale [Steyn] and Imran are all attacking bowlers and you can't only have that. Even though Lopsy [Lonwabo Tsotsobe] can play a containing role, he bowls with the new ball so batsmen will take him on."
Botha's edge may lie in his all-round ability. "I think my batting will help me stay in contention," he said. During this year's IPL, Botha was promoted to number three in the batting line-up for Rajasthan Royals by Shane Warne and played some match-winning knocks. "I don't think I will be able to bat that high up the order for South Africa, because of the quality of players we have here, like JP Duminy and Colin Ingram, but hopefully my performances [in the IPL] put something into someone's mind." With the lower middle-order exposed for being brittle at the World Cup, the least it could have done was give the selectors an idea of how to strengthen it.
South Africa's first task of the summer will be to take on Australia, a rivalry that has always attracted interest. The last time the two teams played a series, Botha captained South Africa to victory in the Twenty20-leg. Botha is looking forwarded to playing the Australians again, especially because they are likely to have his Royals' team-mate Shane Watson in the mix. "He wasn't in the side the last time we played them and I've seen what he can do; he can win games single-handedly."
Botha marvelled at Watson's solo efforts during the IPL from up-close and is now back home and about to embark on an extreme solo performance of his own. This weekend, Botha will spend 24 hours cycling at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth to raise money for three educational charities. It's Botha's fourth appearance in the gruelling event. How does he plan to combat the inevitable exhaustion that will creep in? "When you're scared of falling off, that's what keeps you on."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent