Opinion: The Mighty #, indeed
There are some players who thrive under the pressure of captaincy, and some who are discombobulated by the glare. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, did not like being captain, and for some reason everyone assumed Hashim Amla would be the same.
When he was named Graeme Smith's replacement ahead of the Tests against Sri Lanka in July, instead of everyone's favourite baby-faced blonde AB de Villiers, there were murmurings of, 'Hang on… didn't he say he didn't want to be skipper?'
Turns out, he's a natural, and his calm, humble presence has worked just as well as Smith's more commanding and brash leadership on the field. The Mighty # has captained four Tests, winning three and drawing one.
Of course, some would say that beating the West Indies by more than an innings was par for the course, and that taking the game to day five (sorry about that, Centurion Sunday ticket-holders) would have been a poor showing, given the opposition.
Dale Steyn's six wickets on Saturday morning, in little under nine overs on the trot, reduced the visitors to 131 all out, still 220 runs shy of the Proteas' first innings score of 552/5 declared. Which they only got because of Amla's efforts, not that the immediate headlines acknowledged that.
Amla came in to bat on day one with the Proteas deep in the mire on 57 for two. They lost another wicket on that score, leaving Amla and De Villiers to do what they'd done so often before: save the day.
The dynamic duo went on to record a partnership of 308 runs, the most for any Proteas stand against the Windies in Test history, and reduced the visiting bowlers from energetic to lethargic over the next day and a bit.
Amla, it must be remembered, is the holder of South Africa's only triple century, made at The Oval against England in 2012. That 311 not out saw him survive two dropped catches and make them pay, as he did at Centurion on his way to 208.
His temperament in the middle is the stuff of legend, and even hilarity, after a 'dossier' leaked by Australia showed they'd try to bounce him out and intimidate him verbally. The universal response was, 'You can try… Have you ever seen him react to sledging?'
This ability to block out surrounding chatter, as well as his ever-improving technique, has made him one of the most feared batsmen once set. You can also be assured that his calm presence was vital to Stiaan van Zyl's debut century.
Van Zyl was only in the side because JP Duminy couldn't play, and the Cobras batsman made sure to take full advantage of his chance. Amla was already nearing 150 when Van Zyl arrived in the middle, and surely had a stabilising effect on the debutant's nerves.
As for his tactical nous, Amla is more adventurous than his outward expressions would suggest. He's not animated or 'funky' like Michael Clarke, nor aggressive like Angelo Mathews, but his decision to keep Steyn bowling on day four was a 'no-brainer,' according to the skipper.
Of course, Amla's record is helped by the fact that he has some of the highest-ranked players in the world to call on. De Villiers, Steyn, Vernon Philander, and Faf du Plessis would make any skipper's life a little bit easier.
Lindsay du Plessis
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