Cricket South Africa has chosen shrewdly in Kirsten, De Villiers and Amla

2011-06-11 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s cricket team has been put in good hands. Gary Kirsten and AB de Villiers are the right men for the job. They offer a promising combination of sparky captain and rock-like coach, ideas and method, aggression and patience, and instinct and analysis.

Add Hashim Amla as vice-captain and the new leadership outfit becomes even more impressive. Amla, too, has an enormous amount to offer to his team and his country.

Indeed the only regret held about the appointments is that the think tank did not go the whole hog and put them in charge of the entire operation, the course advocated in this column a few weeks ago. Graeme Smith has been running the show for eight years and that is quite long enough for anyone. Even the best leaders eventually run out of puff.

Whether Smith belongs in that category is another matter. It’s always risky to pick out a 23-year-old and expect him to master himself and his remit. Captaining cricket teams is a tough task at any level because the incumbent tends to get all the blame when something goes wrong and little of the credit when things fall into place. Of course, it is the other way round with God.

Captaining international teams is even harder because the leader inherits all sorts of complications and is powerless to correct them. Captains of West Indies, Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, South Africa spend a lot of their time trying to hold things together. Cricket does not exist in isolation. It reflects the tensions and traits evident in wider society. Inevitably their ability to focus on the job in hand is reduced.

Smith has been struggling and the time has come to let him concentrate on his game.

De Villiers is the right man to take over. He will bring stability because he can command a place in all three teams in all conditions. Besides, he has many good years left in him. At least he has been put in charge of the T20 and ODI sides and that’s a step forward. In contrast, Smith has been wobbling and Johan Botha is in a tight spot. Botha led the side admirably and also stood out in the recent IPL campaign, but will be hard-pressed to hold his place

De Villiers has another vital quality, a sprightliness often missing from the team. Arguably he is the first optimist to captain the Proteas since they returned to the fold. By and large dourness has prevailed. Jonty Rhodes was the last of the free spirits. At the crease, in the field and behind the sticks the newcomer is constantly involved and always seeking to take the game to the opposition. And teams reflect the mood of the captain.

Amla will be a splendid deputy precisely because he does not seek the top position. He has publicly discounted himself as a captaincy candidate, explaining that he does not have a big enough personality for the role. But personality and character are not the same thing. Amla might not be the life and soul of the rooms, but he has an abundance of character and has often proved the point.

He is also blessed with an acute brain and a high sense of responsibility. Like his captain, too, he is an excellent batsman. That the new men come from divergent backgrounds helps. Diversity is the local miracle, or could be.

Kirsten was right to seek the position and Cricket South Africa were right to choose him. Richard Pybus is well qualified, but lacks his rival’s authority and credibility. Nor could the lefty duck the challenge of coaching his country. Perhaps he was seeking a calm couple of years before going back on the road, but events dictated otherwise. In any case it is risky to take a sabbatical, let alone a demotion.

Tom Moody returned to domestic cricket in Australia only for his team to flop; now he is chatting away on television. Trevor Bayliss likewise left Sri Lanka expecting to secure a good position Down Under only to be thwarted by a young go-ahead.

Presumably Kirsten has negotiated favourable terms, including periods of rest, recuperation and reflection. Like Andy Flower he is a young man with a family and it would be counter productive to insist that he works the full load. England needs to take care of Flower or else he will presently become a weed.

At any rate South Africa has chosen shrewdly. While Greg Chappell tried to impose his will and his vision, Kirsten did an outstanding job in India. As a former opener, he knows a thing or two about batting on tricky wickets. He is the right man in the right place at the right time. The same applies to De Villiers and Amla.

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