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As South Africa begin their new era under Hashim Amla by taking on hosts Sri Lanka in the first Test at Galle, Abhijit Banare presents a preview of what lies ahead and what to expect for Proteas cricket.
A combined experience of 283 Tests and 22,554 runs that were the pillars in taking South Africa to No 1 position have walked away from the team. It doesn’t take much logic to decipher the gaping hole that the loss of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis has left. But there’s no place for emotions or records to overflow in the South African team as they begin a new era under Hashim Amla.
In fact, there couldn’t have been a better option than Amla to keep aside the commotion. With the calmness of a monk, he will carry on his task as usual while the media around dwells on the past and talks of history as he becomes the second coloured player to lead South Africa.
Unlike Smith, who developed into an inspirational figure for the team over the years, Amla’s journey will begin with the regular consistent performances. Long before Kallis hung up his boots, Amla had been a reassuring figure in the batting line-up. The value of that consistency has gone up now, and from hereon he will propel the team to be their best. Unlike Smith, Amla doesn’t have to earn the respect of his team to move ahead. His teammates already revere the way in which he has conducted himself on and off the field.
On the individual front, Amla couldn’t have wished for a better mindset moving in to this series. His recent batting record in the 50-over format has been exceptional. It’s often witnessed that batsmen either flourish when given the additional responsibility of captaincy, or suffer a slide in form. Only time will tell what it means in Amla case. Apart from the bearing the responsibility, there will be some obvious changes in the team which could shift the way the Proteas approach the Tests.
What does the team look like under Amla?
It’s too glaring to miss the gap at the top of the batting order. Every time there was the reassuring figure of Smith walking out with partners changing over a decade. Today, it will be a new partner for Alviro Petersen in Dean Elgar.
It’s the middle-order which will see a shift in momentum. Both Amla and Kallis had the ability to grind the opposition down. But with Kallis gone, the players to follow Amla are Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock. Except for de Kock, all three of them have shown the ability to play the long innings and two of them even batted the whole day to save a Test. However, all four of them are free-flowing batsmen and love to move along briskly.
The key concern for Amla would be to find a reliable fifth bowling option. Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir are set to be the key bowlers. The absence of Kallis would hurt most in this area. The option of another pacer will stabilise the team, which will allow South Africa to march ahead with seven specialist batsmen, with Philander being reliable with the bat as well. It would be interesting to see how Amla deals with this gap and manage his resources. As far as this series is concerned, two spinners seem likely looking at the conditions in Sri Lanka.
Judging too early?
Cricket South Africa have brought in Amla for a long run and would not infer too much from the results that emerge from the Test series in Lanka. Smith’s era saw him being the sole voice when it came to leading. In the absence of the senior pros, it will be the new team of Amla and De Villiers which will be calling the shots. For all the talks about a new era, Amla deserves a long run before any judgment is made about his captaincy and influence in the team.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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