The three captains of South Africa
Australia was the first team to introduce the concept of having different captains for different formats in international cricket. Their approach was grounded on grooming a captain for test cricket by giving him a lease in limited-overs cricket first. In their cases, their test captains usually did not play limited-overs cricket and hence the idea was accepted by both without any room for personalities to clash.
England, later adopted the system, and opted for multiple captains but not in a grooming mindset. They identified that the demands of each format are different, requiring a different captain, for the different formats. They also had very different teams for the three formats, therefore making their thought process very clear. They wanted specialists for each format.
South Africa is the latest country to adopt a 3 captain system but the system in South Africa is very unique. The core of their team is the same across formats and they have made three of their pillars as captains for each of the formats. Hashim Amla, naturally more suited to Test cricket dons the leader’s hat in Tests; ABD, the superman, leads the team in ODIs and Faf du Plessis, the understudy to ABD, leads the team in T20s.
This move was expected to work for South Africa by minimizing the pressures of captaincy on their key players and letting them focus on the game more as a player. AB de Villiers has also made it a point to opt out of wicket keeping in ODIs. In the most recent World Cup, he gave a generous run to Quinton de Kock, solely because he did not want to be the side’s captain, leading batsman and also the wicketkeeper.
It was understandable considering the intensity that ABD had to lead his side to title glory. He was taking too much pressure on himself. Martin Crowe’s famous open letter to him during the World Cup to shave off his beard and relax proved this. ABD did shave and paid heed to Crowe. He tried hard to smile and mask the weight of expectations on his shoulders and kept backing de Kock to come good. If South Africa managed to cling on to their nerves and win that World Cup, ABD would have become their crowned king. We all know what happened in that semi-finals and the concealed pressures and expectations and intensity came out as tears on the field.
The whole world wanted South Africa to win. The whole world wanted ABD to lift the cup. The whole world wanted to believe that this South African side does not choke. But, it was a painful ‘but’. South Africa seemed to play with the fear not to lose somewhere hidden in their mind behind all the confidence and aggression.
Such a loss would naturally drain a captain of his mental reserves and reduce the desire to lead the team. Captains like Kumar Sangakkara have openly admitted these feelings. One wonders if it also drained Faf And Amla equally as captains.
Though they have three captains, the real captain of the team in the minds of the people is none other than ABD. It almost appears that Amla being the test captain is to focus ABD more on the ODI World title and Faf being the T20 captain is to groom him to become the next captain of the team. This seems to be a mix of the approaches of Australia and England to split captaincy.
Now that the World Cup is over and South Africa has another four years to prepare a team for their quest, will ABD continue to be their ODI captain? He has no reason to stop playing before 2019 and might very well be one of their key players in the next Cup too but will he be captain? ‘Will he want to be captain’ would be more precise to ask.
While another chance to glory might tempt him, another possibility of failure might hold him back. If all goes well, Faf may take over captaincy after his learning curve, if he proves his worth as a T20 captain. Amla will be there too, as a key player in the team and Test captain, with the least of the World title pressures.
Come England in 2019, we can see these three discussing strategies on the field again. Their close bonding and understanding of their roles in the team is critical to prevent any misunderstandings of authority. They will understand.