Wednesday 11 June 2014 

Test Captain Amla - Brilliant Move, Or A Mistake?

Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla is South Africa's new Test captain - but will he be a successful one?
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Even though I was ecstatic when Cricket South Africa (CSA) named Hashim Amla as the country's new Test captain, many people have been asking whether their move to do so was a mistake.

First of all, people have to understand how the Test captaincy became vacant. Graeme Smith was only 22 when he was put in charge of South Africa's Test team and while the burden he bore would be too much for most 22 year olds to handle, Smith excelled as captain and soon became one of the most revered openers and captains in international cricket.

During his 11-year tenure as Test captain, Smith transformed South Africa into one of cricket's major powerhouses and it was no surprise when they reached the top of the Test team rankings after defeating England 2-0 in a highly captivating and entertaining series in 2012.

However, while South Africa defended their ranking for nearly two years, Smith was struggling to find form with the bat and with his fitness as well.

After signing with Surrey in November 2012, Smith succumbed to a devastating ankle injury, which had dogged his international career for quite some time, and underwent surgery in April 2013. Smith was out of action for the next five months and only made his return when South Africa toured the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan in October.

 I truly believe CSA have made the right, and smart, choice in appointing Amla as South Africa's Test captain.

I do not say this solely based on the fact that Amla averages 51.35 in Test cricket or that he became the first South African to score a triple-century in a Test match. I say this because he has the ability and possesses the knowledge to become one of the best captains the sport has ever seen.

Amla is not known for being brash or a loud-mouthed. In fact, he is one of the more quiet cricketers that goes about his business and doesn't bother sticking his nose in places where it does not belong.

But even though he scored a sparkling double-century during that tour, it was clear that Smith was still not at 100 per cent. Smith himself must have known this and it was probably the main reason why he decided to hang his boots up after the Proteas' 2-1 loss to Australia in March.

When Smith bade farewell to Test cricket, CSA immediately entered panic mode as they had to find a suitable candidate to replace the man who had led South Africa since he was an ambitious, bright-eyed youngster.

Two candidates that came to mind right away were Amla and AB de Villiers. After a while, Faf du Plessis' name came into the fray, along with JP Duminy's.

It was almost certain that Duminy would not be named Test captain as he did not possess enough experience in the format or in a leadership position. With three names left in the bag, de Villiers was immediately branded as the frontrunner to take over the Test captaincy as he had a lot of prior experience being captain and vice-captain.

He was named One-Day International captain in June 2011 and still holds the illustrious position today. In addition to that, de Villiers has been South Africa's vice-captain in Tests since 2011, which made him even more of a favourite in the eyes of the cricketing community since he had the time to learn from Smith and pick up valuable tips.

Du Plessis was made Twenty20 captain in February 2013 due to his aggressive approach and mentality. However, he has excelled in the longest format as well, scoring 996 runs in 14 Tests at an outstanding average of 52.42.

He has also saved South Africa on numerous occasions, but the most memorable one to date was his match-saving 110 on debut against Australia in Adelaide in November 2012. This shows that he definitely has the potential to become captain in the future as he knows how to lead from the front and by example. However, it was probably due to his lack of experience in the longest format of the game that he was not picked as Test captain.

With Duminy and du Plessis having been eliminated, it was down to either Amla or de Villiers. As explained earlier, de Villiers was the frontrunner to replace Smith, but Amla got the job in the end and there must be a reason for it.

Unlike de Villiers, Amla had never been fond of leadership roles prior to being named Test captain. In fact, Amla actually gave up the ODI and Twenty20 vice-captaincy in February 2013 since he wanted to focus on his batting. Since then, he has been reluctant to become captain or vice-captain in any format of the game.

However, I truly believe CSA have made the right, and smart, choice in appointing Amla as South Africa's Test captain.

I do not say this solely based on the fact that Amla averages 51.35 in Test cricket or that he became the first South African to score a triple-century in a Test match. I say this because he has the ability and possesses the knowledge to become one of the best captains the sport has ever seen.

Amla is not known for being brash or a loud-mouthed. In fact, he is one of the more quiet cricketers that goes about his business and doesn't bother sticking his nose in places where it does not belong.

But, it is Amla's quiet exterior that can deceive other captains and oppositions since they do not know what to expect. Add to that the fact that he is a very humble, gracious and down-to-earth man and what you get is a captain who lulls his opponents into a hypnotic trance before raining all his might down on them, without even giving them the slightest chance of striking back.

Amla also has a lot of inner strength and is very calculating, which makes him extremely dangerous and is another reason why CSA made the right choice in picking him as their next Test captain.

Inner strength is exactly what a captain needs to get any team through tough situations. A prime example of this is when South Africa were defeated by Australia, it was their first loss in 16 series. This is where a captain with inner strength would excel as he possesses the ability to rejuvenate his side and make them determined to bounce back.

In Amla's case, he will now be using South Africa's demotion to the second-best Test team on the rankings to re-energise his teammates.

But, while Amla has strength upon strength upon strength, he does also have a weakness, believe it or not. I feel that Amla needs to develop a little more aggression when he captains his side since it will make him look even more hungry and determined for success.

Not only that, but his own team will draw from the fact that he has a raging fire in his belly and his eyes firmly set on the prize. A little aggression will also transform Amla into an all-round captain, and one who knows how to get his team through thick and thin.

Bimal Mirwani is a cricket writer and student at Kingston University. He tweets @BimalMirwani and you can read more of his work here.

© Cricket World 2014

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