Proteas fast bowler Kagiso Rabada seemingly being miscast as captain of one of the three teams in Cricket SA’s (CSA’s) innovative Solidarity Cup brought into sharp focus CSA’s none too obvious options in looking for a test skipper.
Lockdown has been an opportunity for most of us to learn or achieve a lot of things – bake bread, attend Zoom meetings without being caught with our pants down, quit smoking and so on – but it’s hard to believe it’s turned Rabada into a captain.
This isn’t to scoff at the leader of the Proteas’ bowling attack’s potential for influence (remember our reaction to Quinton de Kock being named ODI captain?), it’s just that no self-respecting fast bowler should be subjected to walking the diplomatic tightrope captains do, not least one with Rabada’s disciplinary priors.
The speculative nature of Rabada’s elevation to the captaincy of an exhibition side is not too dissimilar to the manner in which the powers that be will reach the conclusion in their current search for a Proteas test leader.
It was more than two months ago that CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith said the organisation was locked in debate over Faf du Plessis’ successor, a period during which several Proteas players – including the unlikely but not unqualified figure of spinner Keshav Maharaj – have publicly expressed their interest in the job.
If popular opinion is anything to go by, batsmen Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen have emerged as favourites for the job. That there are that many options indicates that there is no obvious choice.
The problem with the four candidates is that, while they have at least one quality that enhances their claim to the position, one almost feels as if it would be better if said traits – Elgar’s grit, Bavuma’s holistic world view, Markram’s ebullience and Van der Dussen’s calm – were amalgamated into one incredibly well-rounded captain.
In lieu of the perfect candidate, it looks like the call will be made on a combination of the designated leader’s attributes, what Proteas head coach Mark Boucher wants in a captain and the needs of a team that appears to have misplaced the gumption it needs to go toe-to-toe with the opposition for the 15 sessions it takes to complete a test match.
Hard bastard Elgar seems to be the ideal lieutenant for Boucher in terms of similar personality. But, while that would help the team rediscover its appetite for a fight, going with a 32-year-old feels like a little like a stopgap solution.
In Bavuma, CSA could go the rugby route and appoint its first black African captain.
While that would be read as a copycat scenario, Bavuma’s ascension to the captaincy would balance the tone-deafness the new Proteas leadership seem to have when it comes to sensitive topics like transformation.
But, as well-versed as Bavuma is in the bread and butter issues of the country, one got the impression he was getting frustrated by the cricket public’s seeming refusal to recognise him as simply a batsman who needs to score more runs than a black batsman who needs to score more runs, a situation that won’t be improved by him being captain.
Markram – young, thoughtful and the only South African captain to win an ICC trophy – seems the perfect fit. But sometimes the pressure of having been labelled the Proteas’ next captain six years ago seems to weigh heavily, while his thoughtfulness can border on addled.
The seemingly unaffected Van der Dussen is a dark horse at 31 and, four tests in, precisely for his zen appearance at the crease, but he has come across as inward looking when the going gets tough, not to mention playing for himself when that happens.
I know cricket loves its captains to be overlords, but, in this case, can’t we appoint one of these candidates and have the rest heavily assist him, especially if Du Plessis is still playing?