Johannesburg – Hashim Amla may be prepared to contemplate a
switch from No 3, the slot he has served so extraordinarily well, to 4 in the
batting order now that he has taken the Test captaincy reins of South Africa.
It was just one of the revelations he offered in an
exclusive half-hour conversation with Sport24 a day after his announcement as
Graeme Smith’s successor, and just ahead of the 2014 CSA Awards banquet here
In the interview, Amla also reveals exactly when he came
around to the idea that he could take charge, and insists that he doesn’t “bow
down to peer pressure” after some suggestions his arm was twisted at boardroom
level to take the job.
Nor is he too concerned that he is likely to signal a
departure from relatively in-your-face captaincy of the SA Test side: “There
are many ways to skin a cat.”
The 31-year-old also shares some thoughts on his first
challenge in his new capacity: trying to earn a rare series win in Sri Lanka in
This is the interview ...
Somewhere high above
us, I imagine a certain Hylton Ackerman, who was so excited about your potential
many years ago, has a satisfied smile over your appointment as national Test
captain ... he was an important early mentor to you when you led the SA
under-19s in 2002 at the World Cup in New Zealand, wasn’t he?
Oh yes. In those days when you were a youngster coming into
the international under-19 set-up, the kind of knowledge a guy like that
imparted was quite amazing. We were all blown away. Now, all these years later,
you can really see what he was seeing in a cricket match! We’d sit next to him
and he’d call a play, just like that – I mean, he must have seen a million
games. The knowledge and experience he shared was amazing, and fortunately he
took a liking to me and the guys took a liking to him because he was so open
Did you have further
captaincy aspirations at that time?
I was quite fortunate because at under-15, school first team
level, I captained most of the time ... the under-19 Natal team, and the South
African U19s. So I think it was always in my system. Then I captained the
Dolphins at around 21, so it was pretty normal (to lead) for a good while;
didn’t seem like anything too much out of the ordinary. Then I stepped down as
Dolphins level ... but you know, you don’t just switch off. You always want to
contribute, whoever the captain is; as a cricketer you’re happy to share ...
Was there a
particular moment, or day, when you finally thought: I’m ready to throw my cap
into the ring for the national Test leadership? Did some individual suddenly
give you an encouraging prod?
Well, the day that Graeme (Smith) called time on his
captaincy (during the Cape Town Test against Australia last season) we were all
pretty surprised in the team; I think most people were. A couple of the players
had asked me, a day or so after we lost and then flew to Port Elizabeth for the
first T20, whether I’d consider it. That kind of set the ball rolling. It put
the seed in my mind and I started thinking a bit more. We were building up to
the World T20 then, so I just let it brew a little bit. When I got back six
weeks ago and the selectors were wondering what the possibilities were, I spoke
to (convenor) Andrew Hudson and I said “Hudders, if the team would like it, if
you would like it, and the powers that be would like it ... I’m available for
consideration”. What happened was that somehow my (candidacy) became more
widely known pretty late, which led some to believe I’d been ‘influenced’ to
put my name in the hat.
So it was nothing
like that ...
It was absolutely
nothing like that. In all honesty, Rob, I’m not the kind of guy who bows down
to peer pressure anyway, for most things. I just felt comfortable. Besides,
every day, with everything in life, we change our minds all the time, don’t we?
Just with batting, for example, you instinctively want to score runs, but a guy
bowls a good ball, you block it ... that’s a change of mind.
Even in the very
short reaction time to your appointment thus far, I have sensed a trend of
people who may even have been more partial to another candidate like AB de
Villiers being magnanimous about your appointment. Have you been chuffed by the
response from all constituencies?
Yes, it’s always great to start on that note, to feel the
support of the people. To be honest, I’m not that naive about it ... I mean,
international sport is quite a fickle thing. But having the start-out support
of the players, the public, is very important. For me it was never a competitive
thing: it was not about “why did AB get it”? or “why did Faf?”or “gee, I hope I
get it” type of thing. It’s not about that. We’ve got enough competition out
there; why do we need to create competition within our own ranks? I’m pretty
sure the other guys see it like that. Whoever is captain, there’ll be 100
percent support for the guy, as long as the team moves forward. AB has the ODI
captaincy, Faf the T20 ... but there’s no doubt in each instance that other
senior guys add important value to the captain. The captain makes decisions,
but the seniors add information: it is a collective effort in so many regards.
The Muslim community
in South Africa includes some of the most passionate cricket enthusiasts
imaginable ... have you picked up the joy from them yet?
You know, it’s all happened so quickly! I haven’t really had
the time yet to (interact with well-wishers). It seems so incredibly recently I
was sitting in this very room (in a Sandton hotel) when it became official. But
the community has been fantastic. That said, the most important thing is the
larger community; the South African public as a whole. I don’t want to get too
‘micro’ about it; there’s a macro audience (to satisfy).
The interesting thing
about a Hashim Amla captaincy is how different it may be to the gung-ho,
in-your-face, bulldog style of predecessors like Rice, Wessels, Smith ...
Well, a lot of us in our psyche have Graeme’s long tenure
firmly in our minds. That’s a lasting impression. But I know there is a history
before that ... it is a move away, but there are many ways to skin a cat, I
You are seen as such
a serene, even-tempered sort of character ... can Hashim Amla actually “do”
angry, or be animated, when the need perhaps arises?
Well, Lerato (Malekutu, Proteas media officer) has probably
seen me upset a fair few times (laughing)! Listen, it’s whatever the situation
calls for. The way I see it is that as an individual you set bars for yourself,
whether in training, or performance, and as captain that bar now just shifts
onto the whole team. It’s difficult for me to say clearly yet what sort of
style of captaincy I will have. I will discover it, plus I do have a frame of
reference to fall on, even if it was a long time ago. Fortunately Graeme’s
tenure was fantastic: I pay full tribute to him. I’ve inherited a really good
team, and we’ve learnt from him.
Amla at three, Kallis
four ... for years you two were seen as our bedrock Test batsmen. Now one of
you has gone, and the other suddenly takes the extra responsibility of
leadership as well. I assume you put a lot of thought into the possible impact
on your batting?
Absolutely. I mean, of course there’s a chance it could
impact; there are no guarantees. I don’t think there’s ever been a captain who
takes the job and hasn’t wondered what the effect (on his game) will be. I’m
hopeful it doesn’t impact, and the batting maybe gets better. Losing Jacques
... listen, we’re losing two players in one. It’s up to the rest of the players
to rally to fill that void. It gives others the opportunity to improve their
game. As for batting line-up, it’s something we will discuss; there was a
consideration of me moving down the order to four. Kind of giving me a bit more
time ... you know, if I’m captaining and batting.
That was going to be
my next question! Kallis, of course, moved from three to four himself in his
later years ...
If I wasn’t going to be captain, I reckon I’d probably stick
at three for my whole (remaining Test) life, to be quite honest with you. But
with leadership there is an argument for four. It also extends the batting
line-up (as others would similarly move down a notch). Look, another argument
is maybe we also need at some stage to groom another No 3 anyway, if I were to
retire, get injured, get dropped ... whatever the case. So it’s not something
that may happen immediately, but we may become more open to it. We will sit
down with Russ (Domingo) and the selectors; try to get the best combination now
that Jacques has gone and the balance has changed. In places like Sri Lanka you
need to be a lot more resourceful in your ideas ... if it means tinkering a
little bit, then so be it. It’s a phase where we will have to try a few things
to fill the gaps. If we try to just go the same way, I believe we’ll be missing
Maybe with Vernon
Philander recapturing his all-rounder mantle more and more of late, you don’t
have to be too nervous about occasionally stationing him at No 7, say?
That’s a very good point, absolutely. We knew Vernon could
bat, but I’ve always felt he’s such a proud cricketer: in his bowling ... he
takes great care in it. It’s flowed into his (Test) batting as well. He doesn’t
want to throw his wicket away; he applies himself. He’s shown he can do a smart
job. But the other thing is you don’t want to now burden him with something ...
I mean, seven is quite a high position. So maybe around eight for him is
(better)? I don’t know; we’ve got to find something.
Are you comfortable
with the PR and media aspects that will inevitably occupy much more of your
I do find it a little strange that (some questions have been
raised over it). Maybe it’s because on social media I am not as active. I think
perhaps that’s why the impression gets given, “oh, he’s not (wanting) the
limelight”. Fair enough, I do like my space. But I think the social media has influenced
a lot of people’s thinking, in terms of putting yourself out there. Also, what
more commitments can there really be? More interviews than I had before? More
press conferences? OK, so be it.
Might your captaincy
bring a new era in what could be termed compassionate man-management? You must
know so much about the hardships of touring: hostile terrain, homesickness and
so on ... you can pass on plenty of wisdom to younger players.
Luckily I’ve always got on well with the younger guys in the
side anyway. From my own experience, any young guy coming into the national
team, in any format, it’s a difficult environment. They need the support and
sharing of experience to break that initial barrier. Myself and the other
senior guys definitely rally around the younger ones, giving them the
cushioning to perform. It’s the worst thing to come into the national team and
feel isolated. I try to do it (help) anyway, never mind in captaincy terms. So
from the skipper’s point of view I don’t know if I’ll actually be doing any
more. It’s in the team culture already.
To his great credit,
in the middle period of his captaincy, Graeme Smith admitted there had perhaps
been a Proteas clique issue. Will you be fighting hard to avoid the phenomenon?
You can recognise cliques. There are two kinds: the one that
can be positive and the destructive one. The destructive ones try to
marginalise others in the team. Naturally we don’t want any of them ... and
luckily there aren’t any in the team. Look, there will be guys who have their
close friends: maybe they like the same music, movies or whatever. There’s no
harm there ... actually it’s healthy to have somebody to relate to. And if
mutual respect still exists within the team then what more do you want? The
team is in a good space and to keep it like that will be one of the challenges,
because cancers can develop, with a few losses here and there. It’s not just the
captain’s responsibility ... it’s the players, the coach, the management.
Would you agree that
your initial Test itinerary is relatively kind on paper, even if Sri Lanka away
is a tough start? It’s Zimbabwe and West Indies next: perhaps that order of
business is better than, say, one long series against India, England or
Yeah, I think so. You definitely want to try to settle into
what is known as a pattern of play. This team still needs to find that. Without
Graeme and Jacques, that pattern has changed. Sri Lanka is a very difficult job
for us; we have to quickly adapt to what we’ll face there. There aren’t a lot
of Tests this whole (season) – six games. This year is a relatively quiet year
because of the concentration of ODIs, then the World Cup. So there’s actually a
lot more attention on AB, probably starting from tonight (laughing; De Villiers
would soon be named SA Cricketer of the Year). It gives the team a bit more
time to settle down. This has worked out well, rather than going into seven or
eight Tests in a row, or something. That’s probably best for us. Look, there’s
always a glass half full, there’s always a positive out there ...
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