Captaincy conundrum for ProteasComment on this story
Johannesburg - As the announcement of a new South African Test captain in early June draws near, the best man for the job is becoming increasingly unclear.
Hashim Amla added his name to the list of candidates last week, with JP Duminy also in the running. The two early favourites were AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis.
Du Plessis leads the Proteas in Twenty20s and De Villiers in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), so it would have seemed a natural choice to select one of them.
Cricket SA had been spared the captaincy headache with Graeme Smith entrenched in the position for the last 11 years. Smith, was not only an opening batsman leading from the front, but systematically led the Proteas in a record number of Test captaincies.
He was 22 when he took the reigns and, at the time, was considered too young for the job. It was a risk, but it paid off big time.
Now, of the current crop of names, only Du Plessis is under the age of 30, and only just, as he leaves his 20s behind in July.
CSA is clearly under no illusion that another leader like Smith is around the corner, as suggested by their list of senior Protea players.
It means they are essentially looking for someone to do the job for the next three to five years which, in top-level sport, can seem like a lifetime.
Again it comes back to Smith. For whatever reason, 117 Tests were all he had in him, with the pressure of the job adding to his decision to retire in March.
De Villiers is eight matches away from his 100th Test, and already keeps wicket. Captaining, wicketkeeping and playing a vital role in the middle order may stunt the final years of De Villiers' career. But De Villiers, arguably South Africa's most talented batsman, may just be good enough to shoulder the extra responsibility.
With Du Plessis, there is more potential as he is really still in the infancy of his Test career, with just 14 Tests to his name.
He signalled his arrival in Test cricket with a match-saving 110 not out in the fourth innings against Australia in Adelaide 2012 on debut, showcasing his fighting character right from the start.
Du Plessis played another standout innings against India at the Wanderers in December, where South Africa were chasing a record 458 for victory, but came up agonisingly short by 8 runs as the match ended in a draw. The knock, again showed the bravery and ability to stick it out in difficult circumstances - key qualities needed in a leader.
His lack of experience in the longest format could work for and against him. It could be seen as an advantage, as his yearning to excel could make him one of the stronger candidates.
Duminy, like Du Plessis, is not a Test match veteran. With 24 matches to his name, and just over 1000 runs at an average of under 35, the left-handed batsman has failed to set the Test arena alight after a stunning debut series against Australia in the 2008/2009 season.
In November 2012, he suffered an injury which kept him out for seven months and, before scoring 123 against Australia in Port Elizabeth in February, Duminy had gone nearly two years without a Test century. As a result of such a long lay-off, he is still to cement a permanent place in the side.
To his credit, Duminy has worked hard on his bowling as an offspinner and has performed above expectations in the last three series South Africa have played, including two Tests against Pakistan in the UAE.
Then there is Amla, the polar opposite of Smith. Softly spoken, classical batsman and a man who, in the past, said he had no interest in captaincy.
Now, with little time left before CSA announce their decision, Amla has seemingly changed his mind.
But with Amla, here is a player who is the most consistent performer in the South African team. A veteran of 76 Tests, Amla has been a prolific run-scorer and vital cog of the Proteas top-order. There can be no questioning his knowledge of the game, and he has a calm demeanour that has often pulled South Africa out of holes in the past.
Ultimately, it will come down to his passion for the job, and that is something Amla may not be able to gauge until he is actually in the job.