Amla or de Villiers for SA captaincy?
South African need a leader who can unite the team as it heads towards its biggest transition in more than a decade, according to two former conveners of selectors.
If Mike Procter, who headed the committee from 2008 to 2010, was still in charge, AB de Villiers would get the job. But if it was up to Rushdie Magiet, who was at the helm from 1999 to 2002, Hashim Amla would be the man. What both men agree on, though, is that Faf du Plessis has faded from contention ahead of next week's announcement.
"AB is such a good team guy and people look up to him. If you are the captain, you need to be able to lead from the front and he will do that," Procter told ESPNcricinfo.
But Magiet had a different opinion. "Apart from a very sound knowledge of the game, Hashim is very well liked and he will bring the team together which is what they need at this time," he countered.
Neither Procter nor Magiet have overseen a new captain during their tenures because they were both in office during Smith's reign. However, both men recognise that Smith's retirement, coupled with the exit of men who formed the core of his squad in Mark Boucher andJacques Kallis, means that South African cricket is set for a change in ideology regarding the selection of the next captain. De Villiers' brand is likely to be brave and creative, while Amla's is more measured and polished.
Magiet believes the latter is what South Africa will need to overcome the challenges they will face in the near future. Wresting back the No.1 Test ranking from Australia by taking on the only team they have lost to away from home in the last eight years, Sri Lanka, is the first of those. Maintaining their ruthlessness in a year where the only fixtures are against West Indies and Bangladesh in order to prepare for an incoming tour from England next season, is the other.
"AB will probably also make a good captain, but I would keep him behind the stumps. Character would be the main reason I would go with Hashim," Magiet said.
Procter, though, is not convinced by the personality of Amla, who only made himself available for consideration as the next Test captain recently after months of shying away from leadership. "It is surprising that Hashim changed his mind because he didn't want the job initially. Captaincy is either something you really want or something you don't want," Procter said.
For most of his career, Amla had made it clear he felt the latter. He stepped down as captain of his franchise, the Dolphins, after a season and gave up the vice-captaincy of South Africa's limited-overs sides last year. Amla credited his change of heart to feeling a responsibility to "add value," at a time of need, now that Kallis and Smith are gone. But sources close to CSA have indicated Amla was persuaded to put his name in the hat, particularly as pressure mounts to pick a captain of colour.
Magiet said it did not matter why Amla had made a U-turn, simply because people should be allowed to change their minds. "I don't know what happened or why Hashim changed his mind but I don't think that's a problem. If he is available, I would give him the job," Magiet said. "And the recent reports have said Hashim wants to do it which I think is a good thing."
Equally keen on the role is de Villiers who in an interview with ESPNcricinfo, declared himself "ready" to take over and even indicated that he would be willing to give up the wicket-keeping job if appointed. Procter was heartened by those comments because he thinks that is the best way for de Villiers to lead without being overburdened.
"If AB is captain, he should not keep wicket," " Procter said. "His fielding is superb and he seems to enjoy fielding more. If he is in the field, he will also be able to manage bowlers better."
De Villiers has already handed over the gloves in both Twenty20s and ODIs to concentrate on batting and leading in the fifty-over game. Although de Villiers no longer captains in the shortest format, which is du Plessis' domain, Procter believes if he takes over in the Test arena, he should also be given back the T20 captaincy so that South Africa have some consistency.
"AB should captain in all formats. There is no need to split responsibility," he said. "He is a special player and arguably the best batsmen in the world in all formats. What really makes a good captain is experience so that's what AB needs. He will learn, just like Graeme Smith did."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent