Cricket: South Africa's Test captaincy candidates
South Africa won’t name their new Test captain until after the World T20 beginning in Bangladesh next week. But that doesn’t stop us from taking a look at some of the potential candidates in the running for the gig. ANTOINETTE MULLER runs the rule over those who are possibly in line to don the armband.
It will be some time before Cricket South Africa makes a call on who will succeed Graeme Smith as Test captain. Unlike normal jobs, there is no formal application process with a dressed-up cover letter. Instead, a group of men, most of them wearing suits, decide who would be best suited to lead the number one Test team in the world and who will be thrown under the proverbial truck of public scorn and delight.
The Proteas’ next Test assignment will be to Sri Lanka in June/July. The same country where they last lost a series away from home, nearly a decade ago. It won’t be a baptism by fire; rather by humidity, slow tracks and another reminder of the struggles when it comes to spin bowlers in the country.
When Jacuqes Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher were carted out to speak to the media post-Smith retirement, they all murmured in unison that AB de Villiers was the “natural” choice. ‘Natural’ comes in various forms, though - yoghurt and breakfast cereals are all natural. Decisions for captaining a country with high expectations? That’s not so natural. Here’s a look at some of the potential candidates who could be given the gig.
AB de Villiers – the people’s choice
AB de Villiers is the quintessential South African. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and very intent on making sure everyone is happy, he is the captain who would pick the slow kid with no balance as a substitute, just to make sure everyone gets a turn. Freakishly talented and already burdened with the dual role of keeping wicket and being amazing at batting, if De Villiers were to get the gig, something would have to give. If anybody asked him, he would probably try to confirm and deny it in a roundabout way. It’s not like other players haven’t done the threefold role before and it’s not like De Villiers’ average has suffered under the burden of work in the Test format. No, instead De Villiers has continued to overachieve and break records.
If the people were asked to vote, they would all vote for De Villiers, despite evidence in the limited overs format that perhaps captaincy isn’t quite his thing. Prior to being made the limited overs captain, he had never continuously led a team – not even at school level. That inexperience showed when he struggled to keep up with overrates and eventually relinquished the T20 captaincy. Being in charge of a Test team is a different game and has far more pressures than overrates. As the vice-captain, he will most likely be offered the job, but selectors will have to think carefully about how they manage him. Is this the time to take the leap and bring in young Quinton de Kock as the Test keeper and begin singing the chorus of “He’s just like Boucher”? Let the men in suits decide.
Faf du Plessis – the natural leader
Faf du Plessis likes being in the spotlight. In an interview with The Cricketer Magazine a year ago, Dale Steyn described him as the “player who would be first on the catwalk if there was one”. It’s not a bad thing to want to hog all that attention, because it means you will want to make sure it’s positive. Du Plessis was picked as captain of the school team ahead of De Villiers and has been in charge at different age group levels as well as franchise level. He’s not quite established in the Test team yet, but has shown that when his back is against the wall, he knows how to perform, especially if that performance requires batting for eons. As the T20 captain, Du Plessis has some experience of being in charge at national level and many will argue that he has a far better “cricketing brain” than De Villiers.
Alviro Petersen – the unlikely choice
Alviro Petersen, with his dubious record and all, is the only other player in the team with any real captaincy experience. Although how long he will still remain in the team is anybody’s guess. Petersen recently resigned as captain of his franchise under a dark cloud of huffing and puffing. There were moans about selection interference and there were other rumours of Petersen’s teammates struggling to see eye to eye with him. Petersen also has captaincy experience at English County level, but remains the most unlikely choice out of the lot.
Hashim Amla – the man who doesn’t want it
Many would love to see Hashim Amla captain South Africa in Test cricket. He captained South Africa during the Under-19 World Cup in 2002, captained KwaZulu-Natal at age 21, captained the Dolphins and was once tipped to be the future captain of South Africa. He has captained the national team at international level before, but overall, Amla isn’t too keen on the gig. Last year, when De Villiers was suspended for his slow overrates, Amla was asked to lead the limited overs side, but declined and said he’d “rather focus on his batting”. If only there were somebody who could change his mind.
Wayne Parnell – the left field choice
Since being captain of the Under-19 team, Wayne Parnell has harboured hopes of one day captaining South Africa at the highest level. He has only just made his return to Test cricket and would be as unlikely a choice as Graeme Smith was over a decade ago. Once fit, Parnell will most likely occupy the vacant spot in the team ahead of Ryan McLaren, but due to being injury prone, it’s highly unlikely that such a big task will be bestowed on him. Unless, of course, the South African medical team find that the horse placenta massages which worked for Robin van Persie also work for Parnell, and surprise everyone just like they surprised everyone with the selection of Smith. Highly unlikely, though. DM
Photo: South Africa's captain AB de Villiers bites his nails during a news conference for upcoming One Day Internatioal (ODI) cricket series with Sri Lanka in Colombo July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte