The Star Early Edition
Reluctant captain? Maybe, but a natural leader
RUSSELL DOMINGO kept a remarkably straight face during Hashim Amla’s final press conference as captain when Haroon Lorgat, the CEO of Cricket South Africa, said, with an equally straight face: “I would never force anyone to do anything against their will.”
But Lorgat was not talking about messages sent to head coaches the night before World Cup semi-finals, but about the insinuation that he and the CSA hierarchy had forced Amla into taking the captaincy when Graeme Smith gave it up in 2014. Like Amla, Smith made his announcement at Newlands during a Test match, and like Amla, walked away from the job with immense relief. Was Amla a reluctant captain? Giving up the ODI vice-captaincy and stepping down as leader of the Dolphins to focus on his batting suggests that he may have been. Amla refuted this. Captaining the country was an honour, he said. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Amla is a honourable man, well aware of his responsibilities as a team and as a player of colour.
The power of a black player in a previously all-white sport cannot be under-estimated. Amla’s selection in 2004 was an important and vital moment for transformation in South African cricket. The Indian cricket community is vast in South Africa. That there have been so few Indian international players in South African teams is concerning. It might be flippant but true to suggest there are more cricket administrators of Indian descent than professional players. Amla and Temba Bavuma are more than just role models for young black players, they are the men holding open the door of the national team for others to follow.
Amla’s career got off to a stuttering start. Amla had scored four centuries on the bounce in domestic cricket. It was a no-brainer to call him up. He scored 24 and 2 in that first Test against India at Kolkata. His next Test was the Boxing Day match in Durban in 2004, where he scored one run from 31 balls. He got 25 and 10 in the 2005 New Year’s Test. That was to be his last match for over a year as he went back to the Dolphins, and gave up the captaincy in 2005 to concentrate on his batting He returned in April 2006, and scored his first century for South Africa against New Zealand in Cape Town.
Amla had replaced Herschelle Gibbs in the team after the latter was described as “mentally tired”. “It was quite a relief,” Amla said at the time. “I felt that I was under quite a lot of pressure and I was fortunate to have Boeta (Dippenaar) there, and then later, Jacques Kallis. He’s a fantastic influence at the crease, very calm and collected, and he helped me through some tough patches.” Amla’s technique had been questioned, the loop in his lift quizzed. “I spoke to several top coaches, and they all told me to keep it as natural as possible. When I’m batting, I try to concentrate on what I’m doing and stay as calm as I can. I always try to keep it simple. I was disappointed to go out on 149 – no-one wants to go out on 149. But I was happy with my first century. I hope it will be a long Test career, and maybe if I can score 50 centuries in my career, no-one will question my technique.”
It would not be a stretch to say that Amla’s technique was questioned because of the colour of his skin. Every flaw in a black player is amplified, every mistake used as an excuse to suggest he is there only because of the colour of his skin, that he has not been brought up in a proper culture of the sport. The racism in selection means that a black player has to be better than his counterpart. The fight to make a provincial and then a national team is harder. The path is not mapped out for them. And, so, when an Amla or a Bavuma makes it, when they prove themselves on the field, then the celebrations must ring loud.