Australia in SA

Succession: It’s just AB or Faf

2014-03-04 23:38
AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Former “Affies” schoolmates AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis are the lone candidates to really jump out for replacing Graeme Smith as Test captain of South Africa.

 Cricket South Africa say there is no special rush in naming the successor, after almost 11 years of virtually uninterrupted and often inspiring leadership from Smith, as the winter trips to Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe are still several months away.

It raises the possibility that one of the duo, the 29-year-old Du Plessis, will be particularly closely assessed as skipper of the Proteas’ team at the looming next major global event, the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh later this month.

Many would consider him the second favourite right now, with De Villiers, 30, arguably the most appealing candidate on the grounds of his more established captaincy of the one-day international side – he has done that job since January 2012 – and revered pedigree as a player.

After all, he has been the most recent vice-captain to Smith at Test level, so if natural progression is to be obeyed, he is the chosen one.

But Du Plessis, with whom De Villiers first played for the Affies 1st XI from Standard 7 level, also has his well-developed fan club for leadership.

As critic and former Proteas stroke-player Daryll Cullinan noted on www.espncricinfo.com on Tuesday following Smith’s rather sudden vacating of the Test post, “there is also a strong thought that Du Plessis is the man to lead South Africa now”.

Cullinan feels it is a “tall order” to expect De Villiers, a critical runs-scorer and the incumbent Test wicketkeeper – he also considers him the best batsman in the world when all formats are combined – to assume the five-day reins on top of his ODI leadership load.

Certainly Du Plessis will look an even more attractive prospect for the Test job if he steers the Proteas to a very advanced stage or victory itself at the World T20: South Africa have never yet even made the final of that tournament in four attempts.

That said, De Villiers has a special aura as a player and an undoubtedly strong public persona; he has certainly handled the “PR” side of his ODI captaincy with some aplomb thus far, even if T20 counterpart Du Plessis is no slouch there either.

He has candidly admitted at times that the task has been a difficult and even painful one, especially given the many years in which Smith previously also led the ODI cause and built up mountains of experience.

But the very fact that he has gone through a school of hard knocks, during a time of transition for the one-day side, probably stands De Villiers in good stead.

Under his tenure, signs are emerging now that the team is coming together at a good time, bearing the 2015 World Cup in mind – the recent 2-0 disposal on our shores of defending champions India was an encouraging outcome.

Illuminatingly, De Villiers has also shown impressive evidence that the needs of leadership do not wear him down at all from a personal performance point of view.

Just three matches into his tenure as ODI skipper, De Villiers strung together a stellar sequence of innings of 96, 125 not out and 106 not out, and his last seven knocks in the format have seen him register two centuries, two scores of 70-plus and another of 48 not out: he is a bastion of reliability and match-winning potential even as he has so many other things on his mind.

“If it does come my way, it would be a huge honour,” De Villiers told an Australian television audience as the inevitable question of Test succession was raised while he paid tribute to retiring comrade Smith on eventful Tuesday at Newlands.

There are desperately few realistic other candidates for the SA Test captaincy, unless someone like Hashim Amla is having an unexpected change of heart about the extra burden.

But near-metronomic batsman Amla has had leadership before, both at franchise and international level, and quickly turned his back on it: that situation is quite likely to be unchanged.

Who else? Some members of the current – and unusually embattled right now – Test team are not assured enough of their spots to be considered.

Nor are we in a South African era where a bowler (still not generally the norm worldwide) leaps out and grabs you as captaincy material, something that was different when Shaun Pollock made himself available for the job for a couple of years, ahead of the lengthy Smith chapter.

Yes, I lean the AB de Villiers way ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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