Hashim Amla was named Graeme Smith’s successor on Tuesday, pipping AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis to the gig. While Amla once said that captaincy was not for him, he changed his mind recently and many will be very glad that he did. De Villiers will serve as his deputy for Tests while roles will be reversed for the one-day captaincy role. De Villiers will captain and Amla will be vice.
It is not until July that his skills will be put to the test, when South Africa travel to Sri Lanka for a two-Test tour, but for all intents and purposes, Amla was the best candidate for the job. Here's why.
He brings a fresh perspective to captaincy
No matter who took over the captaincy, nobody could have replaced Graeme Smith. He was a colossal presence, not only in stature but in experience. Under Smith, though, things were always done his way. Although he was by no means a dictator, his word did hold a large amount of sway. With Amla, things will be different. Amla, de Villiers and du Plessis have all played cricket together for a long time. Amla and de Villiers have been together for almost a decade, and while Amla might be captain, decisions will be made more as a group.
Amla’s approach will also be vastly different to South Africa's over the last few years. South Africa will always be mavericks, that is in their DNA, but they will be a more dynamic and quiet kind of maverick. De Villiers, although much improved as a limited overs captain, has made quite a few mistakes in the format. Struggling to keep up with overrates was just one of the things de Villiers could never get right. Amla has watched and learned from the mistakes of all the captains he has played under and will have interpreted those mistakes in a new and fresh way.
It allows de Villiers to keep the gloves, for now
South Africa’s next assignment is a trip to Sri Lanka. The same place they last lost a Test series away from home. Young Quinton de Kock has been included in the squad to tour the country, but he probably won’t be given the gloves just yet. Earmarked as de Villiers' eventual successor, it’s a transition that will take some time.
A baptism by fire in Sri Lanka is not the best way to ease de Kock into the role. The appointment of Amla as captain allows de Villiers to retain the gloves for the time being while the brain trust mulls over the best way to introduce de Kock to the role.
He’s a silent genius
Amla has some experience captaining, having done it at the under-19 level with his franchise side the Dolphins and a few times in the one-day team. He led the under-19 team to the final in the tournament back in 2002. It’s doubtless that his captaincy skills has blossomed since then. He has learned a lot under Smith and de Villiers, and while it will be a testing time for Amla, his genius cannot be underestimated.
As somebody who thinks about the game a lot, Amla will bring calm and coherence to the side. He is also not one for hand-holding and will want his charges to think for themselves and make their own decisions while taking his input on board. Amla is also not as self-deprecating as de Villiers, who often blames himself for South Africa’s losses.
In context of South Africa’s societal fabric, it’s a big deal
Amla is South Africa’s second captain of colour. He’s the first official captain of colour since Ashwell Prince served as a stand-in captain. In the context of the country, it is a very big deal. There has been increasing pressure from government to transform the team, and while Amla is certainly not a “quota” appointment by any means, he is a perfect example of just how far South African cricket has come since readmission. He has a long way to go yet, but having a player of colour captain the country really is an important step forward.