AB de Villiers has admitted "disappointment" at being overlooked as South Africa's next Test leader but has pledged his full support for new captain Hashim Amla. De Villiers was considered the frontrunner for the position Graeme Smith vacated in March and in an interview with ESPNcricinfo had declared himself "ready" to lead and give up the wicket-keeping gloves if necessary, but that was not enough to convince the selection panel.
"I will not beat around the bush. I'm disappointed that I'm not the captain," de Villiers told the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld. "Everyone has dreams and ambitions and hopes they will become reality but I accept the situation and will not let it come between me and Hashim. It would be very stupid of me if I let it affect my game and my role in the team. The choice is made. I wish Hashim all the best and will give him all of my support."
Although neither de Villiers nor convener of selectors Andrew Hudson would reveal when the former was informed about the decision, Hudson explained at Amla's appointment on Tuesday that all the candidates for captaincy were consulted and gave their support to the selectors' choice.
"Processes were followed. We've spoken to the guys who were close and that little group of senior players are all supportive of Hashim," Hudson said. "We said to the guys 'This is what's coming' and the guys said they were behind it 100%. There's this group of senior players - Dale (Steyn), Morne (Morkel), Faf (du Plessis), AB, JP (Duminy) - that are behind Hashim and they respect him. He hasn't just got two or three guys that support him, he has got a core."
Amla also had the backing of his predecessor Smith, who tweeted a message, part of which read, "Congrats my bud and excited to watch you shape proteas test future," while recent retiree Jacques Kallis called Amla's promotion "well deserved."
The reasons for the selection committee's unanimous recommendation of Amla, which the board ratified, was put down to "deciding who we thought was best for the job," Hudson said, with a focus on ensuring the transition phase will be as smooth as possible. "Hashim is solid and sets an example and he can continue the team culture going forward," Hudson said. "One of the great things is that 90% of what the team needs to be successful is already there and needs to be continued and I think Hashim's leadership style will suit this continuum."
Amla's previous reluctance to lead - as recently as last year he stepped down as vice-captain of the limited-overs squads - was not a concern for the selectors, who understood his thinking at that time. "It was about trying to get his batting right. Hashim is quite intentional. His intention was to get his batting right and he felt that was first port of call," Hudson said. "Now that he is at that point where he is more comfortable than what he was with his batting, he feels he can contribute in other areas. Captaincy is one where he can leave a deposit that will far outlast the runs that he scores. He can influence youngsters and he is good with people."
Hudson also denied the selectors were motivated by any desire to break up a small controlling group, which the likes of Herschelle Gibbs had claimed was in operation. In his biography Gibbs said Smith, Kallis, Mark Boucher and de Villiers controlled the team and there were lingering whispers that power balance remained in place. "I don't know how much of a clique there really was," Hudson said. "I think a lot of it was speculation."
Hudson also brushed aside talk there was political pressure involved in Amla's appointment, rather focusing on the positives of giving South Africa's its first full-time captain of colour. "It's great that we've got a player of colour as a captain but it wasn't the reason why we chose him. We chose him on merit and in terms of his ability and on what we think the team needs in this next era."
Ultimately, the choice between Amla and de Villiers may have been made by, as one insider put it, the need to "maintain team stability" at a time of great change. With Smith and Kallis retiring in quick succession and leaving gaps to be plugged in the batting line-up, using a rookie keeper may not have been in the plans.
That means, not for the first time, de Villiers will be asked to put service above self, but if there is one person who is willing to do that, it is him. He is already looking forward to the role he can play as Amla's deputy at Test level and to ensuring South Africa return to the top of the Test rankings.
"As vice-captain of the team I will closely work with Hashim and believe we can make a good combination," de Villiers said. "I accept that it is not always moonshine and roses and you can't expect things must always go your way. In the end, we are all working together in the best interests of South African cricket. I believe Hashim will make a success of the assignment. He is a very experienced and senior player and is a fine student of the game. We will all pull in the right direction do to make sure our cricket comes out on top again."