Amla enjoying captaincy learning curve

Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla embrace as they secure victory AFP

For a man who first reacted to captaincy like someone with a nut allergy does to a pecan pie, Hashim Amla has not done too badly in his initiation period. In fact, it has been better than that.

Amla's first six months as South Africa's Test captain have ended in a shower of success. Although they played only had six Tests, he is undefeated and the four victories he snapped up along the way contributed to two series wins. He has overseen the retention of both the Test mace - even though the official cut-off is in April - and the lucrative cheque that comes with it. Most importantly, he has been in charge of a period of transition which has gone so smoothly, an outsider would not have guessed this was a side that had lost its three most experienced players and most inspirational coach in the last two-and-a-half years.

"I'm learning a lot more about captaincy and getting used to the job. I am fortunate in that my tenure as captain has been very short so far and given me a lot of time to contemplate," Amla said. "Sri Lanka was a highlight because I don't think people expected us to win there but then in Zimbabwe and even here, we were expected to win. The team is developing and this is a good little starting period."

More than that, it has been a solid continuation of a recipe for consistency which South Africa continue to get right even when the ingredients change. The retirements of Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith changed the appearance of the team, the departure of Gary Kirsten could have changed its character but the presence of Amla and his senior core allowed it to keep its shape. "We always knew things were going to change but the core of the team stayed the same," Amla said. "That's the beauty of any sport is that the game goes on."

Accepting that things must begin and end and personnel must change is one aspect of moving on, having the depth to replace those who leave is another. South Africa have been fortunate to have both. Since Kallis' retirement just over a year ago they have had five debutants - Quinton de Kock, Dane Piedt, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma and Simon Harmer - and all showed promise for the future.

They have also infused a squad used to stability with a healthy dose of surprise and spirit, which Amla explained rejuvenated some of the older hands. "What the new players have brought to the team has been amazing - they have brought a lot of energy and freshness," he said. "Everybody enjoyed it and we were all feeling nervous and excited to see how they will perform. But also, when you have that situation, it's important the senior guys step up."

No-one has done that more than Amla himself. Since taking over, he has scored two match-changing centuries - 139 to save the game in Colombo and 208 to set up victory in Centurion - and introduced aggressive tactics which South Africa have previously shied away from. Amla made a sporting declaration in Galle, has been willing to use his bowlers creatively and set innovative fields to create chances and move matches forward. Allowing the game to drift is not his style and that augurs well for a less conservative South Africa.

That approach suits the likes of AB de Villiers, who thrives on freedom when he is batting, and Dale Steyn, whose ability to ramp up pace and intent is controlled by an internal switch only he knows how to flick. They have both been playing Test cricket for a decade and their support is crucial to Amla's success as a captain.

In de Villiers, Amla has a batting partner who blossoms in his presence, can build on a foundation and marshal the tail. In Steyn, he has a devoted leader of a pack which has not changed in four seasons. Amla is already planning ahead of when it does so that his bowling transition can be as trouble-free as the batting one.

"It's not often you are blessed with three bowlers of the calibre of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. At some stage, like with the batting, we will have to start looking at who will take over," he said. "That's why we have guys like Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott around the squad."

Both those quicks, along with the new spinners South Africa have introduced, will be in the mix over the next year, which includes visits to Bangladesh and India and a home series against England. Amla has already identified the end of the year as the period which will present South Africa with its biggest challenge, which will test the team's resilience as the best in the world.

"It's been great to be No. 1 but it's not about No. 1. This team needs to find a winning combination for a long time. We have got debutants coming in quite regularly. Finding the right guys is the primary focus." If Amla stops for a second, he might see that South Africa have already done a lot of that.