Hashim Amla was named South Africa’s new Test captain on Tuesday, with AB de Villiers as his deputy. It’s by no means a radical call, and since the day Amla threw his name into the ring for the job, he has seemed the salient choice. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Up until a few weeks ago, the next South African Test captain looked set to be cricket’s blue-eyed boy, AB de Villiers. He had the credentials, he had the backing of the team, and he was ready. For all intents and purposes, it would have been quite a boring appointment. De Villiers has had his ups and downs during his captaincy tenure of the limited overs side, but he seemed to be the frontrunner for the job.
That all changed very quickly when Hashim Amla revealed that he was actually up for the gig, despite protesting the opportunity to captain before. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, and many will be so very glad he did. He was named South Africa’s new Test captain on Tuesday, with De Villiers as his deputy. Amla will also serve as vice-captain in the one-day format, while De Villiers retains the captaincy.
Most importantly, the appointment is massive in the context of South Africa’s societal fabric. Amla is the country’s second-ever Test captain of colour, and first official since Ashwell Prince was only a “stand-in” player. It’s a massive appointment from that point of view. While some will almost certainly want to view it as a “quota” appointment, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Amla brings something quite different. He’s not as brash as Smith was; he’s subtle, but as motivated and as competitive. Amla is a silent killer with a mischievous streak who knows his game inside out. He is not as self-deprecating as De Villiers, who would often shower himself in blame when the team performed poorly. He is a leader and a serene motivator, but he also has the luxury of having a team at his disposal who knows its game equally well. A team who can think for themselves and who won’t need much hand-holding as they transition into a new era.
That new era is going to be one of the toughest times South African cricket has faced since readmission. Having lost both Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith in a short space of time, the team will have to readjust to a new balance. While neither were at the top of their careers at the time of their retirements, both brought invaluable knowledge and experience to the team.
Amla also faces the political pressures that come with captaining South Africa. With increasing pressure from government to “transform” cricket, Amla will be faced with more than just the nuances of field-placings and well-timed declarations. But he’s been part of the team for ten years and nothing will be new to him.
The captaincy announcement coincided with the announcement of the squads set to tour Sri Lanka in July. It will be South Africa’s first bit of international cricket since the World T20, and is also the place where they last lost a series away from home.
The squad includes two new faces: Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Piedt, both Cobras players. The final XI will only be decided once the conditions in Sri Lanka are assessed, but the chances are good that South Africa will hand out at least one new cap when they face Sri Lanka.
The tour to the subcontinent is likely to be a tough challenge, but it also presents an opportunity for South Africa to prove their strength in depth.
Having recently surrendered the number one Test ranking to Australia, the tour also offers the Proteas the opportunity to go back to the pinnacle.
Amla’s appointment as captain allows De Villiers to keep the gloves and spare Quinton de Kock the baptism of keeping in Sri Lanka. While there is little doubt that he’s been earmarked to take over in the long term, the transition will not be rushed.
Van Zyl would bolster the batting significantly, having finished top of the domestic four-day batting charts this season, the southpaw has been a Proteas player in the making for the last three years.
But an extra batsman does leave the bowling somewhat short. For so long South Africa has had an extra bowler in Kallis who would offer the three front liners some reprieve when they needed it. That is why it is imperative that the spinner who understands his game is so crucial. Imran Tahir is in the side, and while he is a very tidy bowler in limited overs, concerns remain over his form in the longest format of the game. He is prone to following up one good ball with five bad ones, so South Africa could be radical and hand Piedt his debut – depending on how he fares in the warm-ups.
Piedt’s addition to the side is perhaps the most exciting of all. While it’s a shame that Simon Harmer misses out, his approach is more suitable to limited overs. Piedt was exceptional in the domestic four-day game, with 45 wickets in the competition. His variation and ability to turn the ball square are two of his greatest assets. There are no easy Test debuts, but if the Sri Lankan wickets are conducive to spin, it would not be too much of a surprise to see Piedt play in one of the two Tests.
Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Wayne Parnell all retain their places in the team, while Kyle Abbott and Quinton de Kock are also in the squad.
The Sri Lankan tour is over a month away, so there is much time to ponder what combinations will work best. What is clear, though, is that despite the loss of two greats, the Test team is heading in the right direction and the young talent waiting in the wings consists of exciting players.
South African cricket will always take a maverick approach. It is very much in their DNA. Although Amla might come across as passive, his captaincy approach will be everything but. Succession here has coincided with retirements. There will be a few bumps on the way, but the right men are at the helm driving the ship.
Full South African Test squad to tour Sri Lanka: Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla celebrates reaching his triple century during the first cricket test match against England at the Oval cricket ground in London July 22, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown