Amla has matured as a leader

2014-07-16 00:00

GRAEME Smith was big. Not just physically, but in his presence on the cricket field. He tossed the coin in 108 matches as captain, then either walked out swinging those huge arms with bat in hand ready to fend off all that came his way, or to take up his position at slip, close to the action, never missing a beat.

He wasn’t the prettiest sight at the wicket when batting, but someone who resembled a viking ready to conquer all before him seldom is. When he swung his bat to great effect, grinding the opposition into the ground, it was something to behold, something rightly celebrated in the many history books of the game called cricket.

When he failed and walked back to the pavilion sooner than expected, he had still conquered. Just his mere presence as the Protea leader, his moments on the field, his leadership and above all, his fighting, never-quit attitude, had the respect of fellow captains and teams worldwide.

Statistics don’t lie, and Smith’s 53 Test wins as captain, the most by a captain in the history of Test cricket, indicates his prowess as a leader and getting the best from his troops.

However, all that is distant memory as a new era dawns in South African cricket. Today, Hashim Amla leads the Proteas into the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, our first non-white skipper since readmission in 1991.

But that’s not the point. There are no political connotations involved. It hasn’t been done to prove a point or have the rest of the world look at us and nod in appreciation since those dark days when black and white were separate in our fair land.

It’s a wholesome cricket decision, Amla appointed Test captain early last month after Smith had announced his retirement after the three-Test series against the visiting Australians earlier this year.

However, the contrast between past and present is palpable. The dominating Smith has been replaced by the quiet, unassuming Amla, a gazelle at the crease, batting with fluency and grace, a well-oiled machine pumping on all cylinders.

While Smith blungeoned, Amla is an assassin, a sniper who goes about his business efficiently, without wanting attention, doing what is best for the team. It’s never about him — the team always come first — and he lets his batting and the talent he is blessed with do the talking.

Like all Test cricketers, he took a few matches to justify his selection as the first Muslim to play for South Africa and many observers wondered if he had the grit, the determination and character to play at such a level.

Seventy-six Tests later, with 6 214 runs, 21 centuries, 27 fifties, an average of 51,35 and the only South African to score a triple century — 311* against England at the Oval in 2012 — and there can be no doubt he relishes the challenges in the Test match cauldron.

Captaincy though, adds a new dimension to Amla’s Test career at a time when there are new, relatively unblooded faces in the squad and the task of wresting the ICC Test mace back from the Australians as we endeavour to claim back the title of number one Test nation.

To many, Amla comes across as too soft for the captaincy, not too outspoken and a man who prefers to fit into the team ethic and system, his regular and important contributions securing his place.

When he captained the Dolphins some years back, he stepped down to concentrate on his batting and international aspirations, a fair reason but one that had cricket followers asking whether it was a convenient way out of taking on the leadership qualities and the stand tall stature that goes with it.

Times have changed since then and the fact that convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson stated that Amla had expressed willingness in captaining the Proteas at Test level speaks volumes for Amla’s cricket journey and maturity as a player.

It’s not going to be easy. Amla knows that, but nor was his Test debut and first few matches.

He is a senior statesman in the side and is respected beyond just the Protea dressing room.

He has stamped his authority on the game and South African cricket.

The final stamp of leadership is a brave step by a cricketer who knows what he wants and will make it happen — in his own quiet and diplomatic way.

It’s a new era, a new captain and a new journey.

Let’s support Amla and the team and let’s remember — if he takes to captaincy with the same fluency and mastery as he did to playing Test cricket, we will soon having other Test playing nations asking us to rent the ICC mace to them.


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