Rookie captain Hashim Amla will have two uncapped players under his care as South Africa begin a new era of Test cricket without Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis in Sri Lanka next month.
Batsman Stiaan van Zyl and off-spinner Dane Piedt, both key members of the champion Cape Cobras team, have been called up for the two Tests against Sri Lanka as South Africa simultaneously look to continue the successes of the last five years and build for the future.
Amla claimed the Test captaincy yesterday ahead of the strong challenges of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, with the national selectors opting for the continuity the 31-year-old will bring, both in terms of leadership and the balance of the team.
While both Amla and De Villiers have been an integral part of the journey that has seen the Proteas grow into a formidable outfit – a road the national selectors want to keep following – making De Villiers captain of the Test side would have robbed the team of an extra option as the Unlimited Titans star has made it clear he would give up the wicketkeeping gloves if he was skipper in the longest format of the game.
While convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson stressed that Amla was “the best leader to take South Africa forward”, he conceded that “AB continuing to keep wicket gives us more options”.
Losing two mighty oaks like Smith and Kallis leaves South Africa in a position of vulnerability as they travel to a venue which has proven their toughest sub-continental destination, and Hudson said they were banking on the calmness Amla brings to make the transition as smooth as possible.
But South Africa will also be heavily dependent on Amla’s prolific flow of runs and he was confident that the extra pressures of captaincy would not have an effect on his batting.
In his one previous season of captaincy, when he led the Dolphins to a share of the 2004/5 SuperSport Series four-day title, he averaged 54.38, scoring three centuries, including a superb 249 in the final against the Central Eagles.
“It’s an honour and privilege to be given this responsibility. Previously I concentrated on my batting a lot, but now it’s time to contribute to the team more. I’m here to serve the team and I will give all my heart to the position. The biggest positive is that I can add more value to the team.
“I’m positive it won’t affect my batting, I hope it won’t and I’m going to try and score as many, if not more, runs as before. I hope I can still get better as a batsman,” Amla said.
South Africa’s last Test tour of Sri Lanka, in 2006, effectively robbed Ashwell Prince, the only previous player of colour to lead the Proteas (albeit in a stand-in basis as Smith was injured), of any chance of captaining his country again as they were beaten 2-0 and Amla is aware of how tough their opposition are to play in their home conditions.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge because Sri Lanka are a very resourceful team. But it’s the sort of challenge you want, these are exciting times. It took us a few years to find a winning combination 10 years ago and it would be naïve to think that everything will just fall into place this time,” Amla warned.
Left-hander Dean Elgar is set to slot into Smith’s opening position alongside Alviro Petersen, while either Quinton de Kock or Van Zyl will fill the number seven spot if South Africa decide to play the extra batsman in Sri Lanka.
But with two frontline spinners in the squad in leggie Imran Tahir and Piedt, the Proteas could play both slow bowlers with Vernon Philander, who averaged 40.00 with the bat last season, moving up to number seven.
Dolphins strike bowler Kyle Abbott has been included ahead of all-rounder Ryan McLaren.
“We have to uncover new talent. There’s a generation of senior players at the core of the team, but who’s next, who will replace them? We must bring those players through and hopefully these guys will be them,” Hudson said.
There are no surprises in the ODI squad, with orthodox spinner Aaron Phangiso, left-arm paceman Beuran Hendricks and Du Plessis being brought into the team that will play three matches before the Test series.
De Villiers will remain in charge of the ODI team in the vital period before the World Cup while, in a role-reversal of the situation in the Test side, Amla will be his vice-captain.
Test squad: Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Stiaan van Zyl, Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott.
ODI squad: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Vernon Philander, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Aaron Phangiso, Beuran Hendricks, Faf du Plessis.