“I don’t want to analyse too much, it’s only been two Tests,” remarked Hashim Amla as he tried to explain his ‘style’ of captaincy in the aftermath of South Africa’s Test series win in Sri Lanka.
Amla showed two different ‘styles’ in the matches in Sri Lanka: In the first Test in Galle, there was the risky declaration which brought great reward and in the second match in Colombo, an obdurate – and to non-South Africans – boring ‘block-a-thon’ to save the Test and win the series.
“Everything is circumstance based, so let’s go to the next Test and see what situation we find ourselves in,” he said in answer to a question about whether the Galle declaration signified a new attacking approach for the South African team. Amla claimed his declaration in Galle wasn’t universally popular among teammates – Dale Steyn, who took nine wickets in that Test admitted he’d have preferred a bigger target for the Sri Lankans, while AB de Villiers, Amla’s deputy, was blunt: “I wasn’t very comfortable with it, with giving them a sniff.”
Nevertheless, the team emerged victorious, and the new era – featuring the new skipper and a couple of other fresh faces – now has some wiggle room in the short-term.
“We have regained the No 1 ranking, but we know we are not the finished article, there’s still a lot of work to do a lot of tinkering to be done, trying to find the right combination of players to take forward,” explained coach Russell Domingo.
South Africa continue to have a limited Test schedule for the next few months; playing Zimbabwe in a one-off Test in Harare from Saturday, and then hosting the West Indies in the summer for three Tests. Another trip is scheduled to Sri Lanka in May, before two challenging examinations await Amla – a three Test series in India and a four-match series against England next summer.
The two players who will be glancing over their shoulders are opener Alviro Petersen and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who despite some strong defence from Domingo, just doesn’t look the part at Test level.
The part-time off-spin of JP Duminy proved to be a better source of wickets for the South Africans – Duminy claimed five wickets to Tahir’s four in the Tests in Sri Lanka and Tahir’s inconsistency – whether in line or length – can’t be tolerated much longer as is his inability to build pressure or keep an end quiet.
While there appears to be a good young replacement in Dane Piedt (the leading wicket-taker in last season’s Sunfoil Series) for Tahir, the same can’t be said for Petersen’s spot, and his record, as Domingo suggested, meant he deserved a chance at redemption.
“Having lost Graeme Smith it’s not easy to just go and replace both openers, there aren’t a lot of openers in franchise cricket who have scored more than 10 first class centuries. You’re talking about a player with (32) Test caps, (five Test) hundreds including (182 versus England at Headingley) and 156 (against New Zealand in Wellington).
“He is a mature guy, a good professional and brings calmness to the dressing-room, which is an important aspect to consider.”
Amla’s initial forays as captain have proved successful then, but he acknowledged that he’ll have to come to terms with the mental demands of the job.
“In the first Test, I found myself to be quite tired, after the first day and a half and after day two and three I was quite mentally drained. That got better as the days went by and I think handling the different aspects of captaincy and switching off, there are times to switch off, and just let the game flow.
“You can’t change the game every ball, some guys like Quinny (Quinton de Kock) want different things every ball and you have to switch off and as the series went on I managed that better.” - Sunday Independent