Cape Town - “It is unfair of me to wear the vice-captaincy cap if I am uncomfortable taking over from AB (de Villiers) when I am needed. 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.”
Those were fierce words. Words uttered with conviction, by a man clear in his thoughts, and with the clarity of a man that knew exactly the direction he wanted his career to go in.
And for those who believed that it might simply be platitudes from a self-indulged professional sportsman, they should know by now that Hashim Mahomed Amla’s word has always been worth its weight in gold.
However, that was 15 months ago when South African cricket still had the broad shoulders of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis to lean on.
Outside of the green turf and white boundary ropes, former Proteas opener Gary Kirsten was steering the ship, while the all-important chief executive seat within the Cricket South Africa boardroom was still being deemed too hot after Gerald Majola’s acrimonious exit.
But the landscape has changed dramatically. Smith and Kallis have completed their service to the nation’s cause (Kallis is only available for one-day cricket until next year’s World Cup in Australasia). Russell Domingo - the country’s first black national coach - has graduated from being Kirsten’s assistant to the head coach after he sought more “family time”.
And last, but definitely not least, Haroon Lorgat has survived the bullying tactics from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to fill Majola’s vacant seat for the foreseeable future.
And therein is the answer to the burning question surrounding Amla’s “U-turn” in terms of embracing leadership, and a willingness to accept the responsibility of leading South Africa’s Test team, starting with the two-Test tour to Sri Lanka in July.
The CSA executive board has yet to appoint Smith’s successor, with current limited-overs captains AB de Villiers (ODI) and Faf du Plessis (T20) the initial front-runners for the much-coveted post.
But with Amla revealing his ambitions to the Cape Times exclusively on Monday, the board will have a compelling case to mull over when they convene on June 3 in Johannesburg.
“I really started thinking about it for the first time when Graeme stepped down and some of the players approached me who thought I could do it, and from there on I began to consider it. I spoke to some people close to me,” Amla said.
“I don’t think there is one significant factor but rather that I have the belief now that having played 10 years of international cricket
“I believe I can add value to the team,” added the 76-cap Test veteran.
During Smith’s decade-long reign, his strong-jawed hulking figure was the imprint of South African cricket the world over, with the Proteas known as “Smith’s team”.
It was built upon a number of significant factors: the length of his tenure, phenomenal individual achievements, and the fact that “Biff” led across all three formats for the majority of his career.
However, since the dilution of Smith’s responsibilities after the 2011 World Cup across the limited-overs formats and the introduction of new leaders like De Villiers and Du Plessis, a different culture has started to grow within the Proteas camp.
There is a fresh senior core emerging with the likes of Amla, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn joining the two Affies boys and Domingo in tactical discussions.
It is also not a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, with Amla, especially, visibly expressing himself more on-field and in team meetings.
“My mind is always active on the field, you can ask any of the guys. I’m always involved in the game, thinking up plans. I feel I would like to explore that more should the board give me the opportunity.
“I think collectively too, we have a group of players that have played close to 10 years of international cricket which has allowed us to create a bigger leadership group where we collectively take responsibility.
“And that is why whether I get it (the captaincy), AB, Faf, JP or anybody else for that matter, the captain-elect will have the support of the entire leadership group,” explained Amla.
Concerns will be raised that Amla’s runs are of far greater importance to the Proteas now that Kallis and Smith are no longer available, especially considering Amla was not an overwhelming individual success with the bat when he led the South African Under-19 team to the ICC World Cup final in New Zealand in 2002 (he averaged 27) and the Dolphins franchise team two years later at just 21.
But Amla is now far removed from the nervous-looking youngster, especially during the 2005 home England series. It was during that series that “experts” found fault with everything from his stance, his exaggerated backlift, and even his decision not to wear the team sponsor’s logo due to his religious convictions.
He always wanted to establish himself as a batsman first.
Now 31, Amla has achieved the distinction as one of the finest of his generation. His statistics speak for themselves: 6 214 Test runs at 51.35, including 21 centuries and a record high score of 311.
Add 4 054 ODI runs at 53.34, scored at amazing strike-rate of 90.14, and he starts breaking records that the legendary West Indian Viv Richards set in his prime.
Amla may be known as the “Silent Warrior” in the South African team, but there could not be a better time for the CSA board to give him the loudest voice of all than right now.