Proteas coach Russell Domingo says that Hashim Amla is one of South Africa’s greatest ever players, and that some of the criticism he’s faced in recent weeks has been “very harsh”.
Domingo was speaking on Wednesday evening after Amla rocked South African cricket by announcing his resignation as the Proteas Test captain with immediate effect following the end of the second match against England at Newlands, which ended in a draw.
The 32-year-old Amla has been questioned in some quarters for his laidback captaincy style and recent lean run of form with the bat, which saw him go through 2015 without a hundred as he tallied just 251 runs in eight matches, with a highest score of 63 in the first game of the year against the West Indies at Newlands.
But a clearly frustrated Domingo defended his erstwhile captain.
“I honestly feel that a lot of the criticism Hashim’s faced over the last couple of weeks has been very harsh. He’s one of South Africa’s greatest ever players. Statistically, he is one of the best. I honestly feel that there hasn’t been – and I must pick my words correctly – there hasn’t been enough respect shown for what he has achieved as a player,” Domingo said at the press conference at Newlands where Amla made his announcement.
Amla is fifth (51.13) on the highest averages list by South African Test batsmen who’ve played more than 20 matches, behind Graeme Pollock (60.97), Jacques Kallis (55.25), Dudley Nourse (53.81) and AB de Villiers (51.52).
In terms of runs scored, only Kallis 13 206 (in 165 games), Graeme Smith (9 253 in 116), De Villiers (8 038 in 104) and Gary Kirsten (7 289 in 101) are beyond Amla’s 7 108 in 90 Tests.
“If I think of his performances last year, people can say what they want to – he is still averaging 45 as captain (actually 49.66). He’s gone to Zimbabwe and won a series there, he’s gone to Sri Lanka, won a series there – which no other captain’s done – he won a series against the West Indies.
“He’s gone to India, where a lot of captains have lost, under very tough conditions. And we’ve come here (to Newlands against England) with six players who have played less than 10 Test matches. So, it’s a very new, young team and I think there’s been quite a lot of harsh things said about him.
“That’s just my little bit of venting here to you guys, because I think the way he has sacrificed himself for the team speaks volumes. And people need to appreciate that type of character – not just of what you see on the field. I think we sometimes undervalue that.”
And Domingo is right in saying that Amla’s captaincy tenure should be seen in context. Last year was a bit of a write-off for the Proteas Test team during a year in which the 50-over World Cup was played.
Of the eight Tests, six were away from home - two in Bangladesh, which were both rained out, and four in India, where they had to deal with “raging turners” that saw South Africa succumb to the spinning wiles of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on substandard pitches in a 3-0 defeat.
In the two matches in South Africa, they beat the West Indies by eight wickets in the New Year’s Test at Newlands and lost the Boxing Day Test to England by 241 runs at Kingsmead.
So, it wasn’t really an accurate reflection of a Proteas team rebuilding after the 2014 retirements of former skipper Graeme Smith and fellow opener Alviro Petersen – not to mention Jacques Kallis a year earlier.
Yes, they had pulled off a remarkable series victory in Sri Lanka in Amla’s first tour in charge in July 2014, but they still lacked that hard edge due to inexperience throughout the team.
In India last November, Amla couldn’t call on his premier fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander due to injury, with Steyn bowling all out in just the first innings against England in Durban before a shoulder injury prevented him from bowling in the second innings, as well as ruling him out of the Newlands Test. Philander’s ankle injury is still keeping him on the sidelines.
Amla scored 894 runs in 14 matches as captain, including three hundreds, at an average of 49.66 compared to his career statistics of 7 108 runs at 51.13 in 90 Tests.
His captaincy record saw him win four, lose four and draw six, with series victories over Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka (the first since 1993), Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe and West Indies in South Africa. His only series defeat came in India, with a drawn outcome in Bangladesh, where rain curtailed both Tests.
AB de Villiers has been named as the captain for the final two England Tests, with Domingo stating that the 31-year-old veteran of 104 caps could be the long-term solution.
“Our next series is only in August (against New Zealand), so there’s still a bit of time for that decision to be made. I suppose AB is the front-runner to do that – that’s the bottom line. That is why he has been asked to do the next couple of Test matches. The board and the selectors will have to sit down with AB once the series is done, and plan the way forward,” the coach said.