Hashim Amla has had one season of captaincy for the Dolphins nearly 10 years ago as a 21-year-old but is now set to be handed the reins of South Africa’s Test team as CSA’s board meet today in Sandton to decide the successor to Graeme Smith.
The fact that Amla had success in that solitary season in charge down in Durban, leading the Dolphins to a share of the 2004/5 SuperSport Series four-day title and the semi-finals of the 45-over Standard Bank Cup, will have little bearing on tomorrow’s decision, save for one important factor.
While Amla relinquished the captaincy after one season, and has been reluctant to lead ever since, the extra responsibility had no noticeable effect on his batting, as he averaged 54.38 in the four-day competition, scoring three centuries, including a superb 249 in the final against the Central Eagles, and went on to make his debut for South Africa that season.
Amla’s main rival for the Test captaincy is the early favourite, AB de Villiers, who has already led South Africa in 40 ODIs.
De Villiers has the advantage of added experience in the role, but if he does become Test captain, it could well force a change in the successful balance of the national team, with the wicketkeeping gloves likely to be taken away from him.
Former South African captain Shaun Pollock, who was Smith’s predecessor, admitted that it was a tough call between Amla and De Villiers.
“There’s no doubt Hashim is a very calm individual and I don’t think being captain will affect his batting too much, but it’s difficult to comment on his tactical awareness unless you’ve played under him. The advantage Hashim has is that he’s just a batsman and there’s not too much on his plate,” Pollock told The Pretoria News yesterday.
“AB has the experience, having led in ODIs already, and knows what the role entails. I’ve been impressed with some of his captaincy, he’s shown some flair and managed things well. But would he have to change his role and give up the gloves because there’s a lot on his plate?” Pollock added.
Faf du Plessis has also been mentioned as a candidate, but he is likely to be left to concentrate on cementing his place in the Test side as a specialist batsman.
Both Amla and De Villiers are going to be key batsmen as South Africa move into the post-Smith-and-Kallis era, and there’s no doubt both will be able to lead from the front and command the respect of their team-mates. Both are universally respected in the cricketing world and both enjoy a good relationship with the media, handling their PR duties with aplomb.
But the factors that are likely to tip the vote Amla’s way are the lesser disruption it would cause to the balance of the team and the strong transformation message it would send out on behalf of Cricket South Africa, who were recently accused of only paying lip-service to affirmative action by the sports minister.
The fact that Amla, a devout Muslim and the first Protea of Indian heritage, has been able to develop into such a key person in the national camp on and off the field suggests he will also be able to pull the different threads of the several cultures within the squad together into a strong unit.
The national selectors will also today announce the squads to tour Sri Lanka next month for three ODIs and two Tests and are likely to reel in Stiaan van Zyl and one of two off-spinners Dane Piedt or Simon Harmer, as new caps for the five-day games. The other off-spinner is still likely to travel to Sri Lanka as a net bowler to gain experience of sub-continental conditions.
Whoever the Test captain is will be mindful of South Africa’s previous tour to Sri Lanka in 2006 where Ashwell Prince wound up losing 2-0 and never captained the Proteas again.
Probable Test squad: Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Stiaan van Zyl, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt, Quinton de Kock, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell/Beuran Hendricks.
Probable ODI squad: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, David Miller, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Wayne Parnell, Beuran Hendricks, Ryan McLaren, Simon Harmer.