Captaincy crown lies easy on Hashim Amla’s head
Just another year in the extraordinary career of Hashim Amla.
Nearly 700 Test runs at an average of 67; three Test hundreds in just seven Tests, including a double last week; an exquisite 127 against the world’s fastest bowler and another ton in Sri Lanka against the world’s best spinner.
None of them, arguably, were even his best innings. That was probably his near-three-hour 25, which helped save the same Test in Sri Lanka.
Throw in close to a thousand one-day international (ODI) runs and five more hundreds in that format and you are looking at one extraordinary year.
This was also the year Amla the batsman became Amla the batsman-leader, a year he ends today as he leads his side out in the Boxing Day Test against the West Indies in Port Elizabeth.
Given the state of the West Indies and their crushing loss by an innings and 220 runs in the first Test last week, it can only be one of the easier tests of Amla’s captaincy.
So this has not been such a routine year for Amla, who was, in some ways, a surprise appointment, if only because he had seemed so reluctant to take over as leader in the past.
It was only as recently as February last year that he stepped down from the vice-captaincy role for South Africa.
He was supposed to lead the ODI side in the absence of the suspended AB de Villiers in a series against New Zealand but decided to step away, wanting to concentrate on his batting instead.
“Captaincy has always been an exploratory area of my cricket but after being at the helm for three ODIs and a few T20s, I feel it’s time to groom a successor who has leadership potential,” he said at the time.
Yet by May this year, it had emerged that he was again interested in the role, at least for the Test side.
Circumstances helped change his mind. This was, after all, a season that marked the end of a long, stable and mostly successful era in modern South African cricket.
Jacques Kallis retired from Tests at the end of last year – and from all international cricket in June – followed swiftly and unexpectedly by the departure of Graeme Smith.
Add to those retirements the sudden end of Mark Boucher’s career in the summer of 2012 and South Africa had lost three vital pillars of their success in fewer than two years.
In this time of transition, it left Amla and De Villiers not only as seniors at the core of the side but also natural leaders.
“At that moment, I felt with the group of senior guys we have in the team – myself, AB, Dale [Steyn], JP [Duminy], Morne [Morkel] and Faf [du Plessis] – that if the team wanted, I would be available,” Amla said on the day of his ascension.
“That was the first time I really considered it. Hopefully with the experience I have gained, I can do a good job.
“If you can add value to your teammates, try and get the team to do well and the country to do well, that’s the ultimate as an international sportsman.”
So far he has done well, even if it has been an easy-to-miss start. Much of the focus, with the World Cup imminent, is on South Africa’s ODI progress and so the focus, for now, is on De Villiers’ leadership in that format – with Amla as vice captain.
But Amla led them to a Test series win in Sri Lanka in his debut as captain, an under-appreciated achievement but, in fact, a massive one. Nobody wins a series easily there, and Amla managed runs as well.
West Indies, sadly, should be a walkover and then a Test gap for the World Cup.
The international calendar is still fluid, but South Africa’s next serious test could be the visit of England next winter.
In their surprising home loss to Australia this year, South Africa revealed that they were in need of change sooner than everyone expected.
But there was also confirmation in that loss that, though they are a very good side, something has always stood between them and true era-defining greatness.
It will not be easy with a changing side and Steyn will not be around forever. But it is what Amla must aspire to, that South Africa become, like him, unequivocally great.
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Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM