Cape Town – A national captain resigning in mid-series, even as his own place in the Test team remains assured, inevitably provides ammunition for conspiracy theorists and mischief-makers, determined to anticipate immediate ructions in the camp.
I will be surprised if that is a tangible spin-off from Hashim Amla’s step-down as Proteas leader ... even if the matter is understandably likely to be regarded as curious to the strong visiting English media contingent, in particular.
Quite simply, Amla must be one of the most ego-free individuals imaginable in cricket, and will seamlessly fall in line with the (acting, for the time being) leadership of long-time team-mate and fellow crease dominator AB de Villiers for the remaining contests at the Wanderers and SuperSport Park.
He has freed himself of a responsibility he clearly wasn’t cock-a-hoop about, and in doing so facilitated the fulfilment of a dream for De Villiers, who does get plenty of kicks from captaincy and is beginning to blossom in it at one-day international level.
It may well prove a powerful, win-win scenario, given the critical importance to a transitional Proteas side of both men as batting bedrocks and senior figures, especially after near-terrifying speculation that De Villiers was going to make a shock exit from the premier format aged 31 and at the peak of his game.
The shot in the arm of captaincy – I am reasonably sure De Villiers’ tenure will go beyond the current series, win, lose or share it – may well have had the effect of convincing him to rededicate his loyalty to the five-day arena for at least another couple of years.
Did the De Villiers rumours influence Amla’s decision in any way?
Don’t discount that possibility, to a degree. I can’t imagine he would have been too chuffed over the prospect, while still in tenure as skipper, of seasoned ally and chief bums-on-seats figure De Villiers exiting an already callow-looking side that has not won a Test match in the last eight.
But Amla is also staunchly his own man, brimful of conviction in his own life – not all of it revolves around cricket, of course – and I cannot believe he would have allowed himself to be pushed, whether any subtle attempts might have been made or not, out of the post.
He is reserved and soft-spoken by nature -- the public relations aspects of Test captaincy would not have filled him with buckets of glee -- but significantly firm in his personal beliefs and pride.
I certainly learnt this, even as I fancied it existed already, when I had the privilege of an exclusive half-hour interview with him in Johannesburg only a day after his appointment in June 2014 and, minus a wider glow of lights and a formidable sea of microphones, he was hugely candid.
When I asked him, for example, if he had been “influenced” to put his name in the hat for the job, considering his well-documented uncertainties about his suitability to captaincy much earlier in his career, he replied: “It was absolutely nothing like that. In all honesty, I’m not the kind of guy who bows down to peer pressure anyway, for most things ... besides, every day, with everything in life, we change our minds all the time, don’t we?”
Invariably we discussed the lobby of support, even at that time, for De Villiers instead to be the chosen one for Tests, and again he did not mouth bland platitudes: “For me it was never a competitive thing; it was never 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? Whoever is captain, there’ll be 100 percent support for the guy, as long as the team moves forward. It is a collective effort in so many regards.”
I find it even harder now, in the context of that memorable meeting with him, to contemplate that Amla was somehow shooed out of the job.
He was true to himself, and honest to a fault. The latter hallmark certainly shone through when he made what Michael Holding felt was the most telling statement of all during his press conference appearance on Wednesday: “Why be a hindrance if I think someone may do a better job?”
There is a certain, fascinating unorthodoxy to Amla – you don’t automatically have to be a philosopher to be philosophical -- and perhaps it came through in the timing of his withdrawal as captain.
Ructions? Fallout? Acrimony? Instability? No guarantees, but if you’re looking for any of that stuff it may be necessary to fish in a different pond.
It could well be absent at the Bullring, where England may even be quite startled by how business-as-usual the South African vibe seems.
That’s Hashim Mahomed Amla for you.
Team guy first.
We should celebrate that quality.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing