Oh captains, SA’s captains

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

PERHAPS it was the conical shape of the trophy Faf du Plessis had been presented with that made him do it. Perhaps it was a nod to the Springboks at the World Cup. Perhaps it was what ordentlike young men from Pretoria do when they are handed something that could, with a little imagination, be a rugby ball … They channel their inner scrumhalf and pass.

Not that Du Plessis, having accepted the spoils of SA’s 2-0 victory in their Twenty20 series against India, sent the chunk of smoothly sculpted metal spiralling through the air at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday.

But he did feign a pass towards his teammates, who stood metres away applauding as their captain picked up the silverware. With that Du Plessis’ easy smile met those of his players and all was well with the world.

Among those players was AB de Villiers, who assumes the captaincy for the one-day series starting in Kanpur on Sunday.

On November 5, when the teams finally get down to the real thing of the test series, Hashim Amla will walk out to the middle at Mohali to undertake the toss.

Is it too romantic to wonder whether Du Plessis was passing not a re-imagined rugby ball but the responsibility of winning the ODI series to his great friend, De Villiers?

We cannot answer the question until, and if, De Villiers collects the trophy at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai two weeks from Sunday. If he does and threatens to sling a pass at Amla this pretty puzzle will be replete as well as complete.

Or, as Du Plessis said, “Myself, Hashim and AB work really well together. We rely heavily on each other.”

And on others: “I played with MS (Dhoni, for Chennai Super Kings) when I just started captaining. As a young leader you look at where you can learn from more experienced leaders.

“You try and see what works for them but you don’t try and copy someone else – you need to be your own leader, you need to know what works for you.”

That said, whatever the format SA often seemed to be captained by the committee of Messrs.. Amla, De Villiers and Du Plessis. It helps, no doubt, that they are among the least ego-driven players in the game.

SA are not the only international side to use different captains for each format. Currently, West Indies and Pakistan follow the same logic, while India, England, Australia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe split the leadership between two players.

Only Sri Lanka and New Zealand lump one man with all the responsibility, although Angelo Mathews and Brendon McCullum seem to miss almost as many games as they play.

Before Bobby Simpson became Australia’s coach in 1986 there was no argument about who was in charge of an international cricket team: the captain; one captain.

But just 150 days of test cricket were scheduled in 1986. Last year that was up to 205. Sixty-two ODIs were contested in 1986 – just more than half 2014’s 121. And T20 internationals? They’ve only been around since 2005, when three were played. Last year? Sixty-one.

“With the amount of cricket being played across the three formats these days having one player as captain would put too much pressure on that player,” former SA fast bowler and bowling coach Allan Donald said. “It would wear him down and he will be fried mentally.

“When you have a different captain for each format he is able to focus properly and you know what you are going to get. It works.”

Apparently, it does. SA will hope it keeps working as they crouch, bind and set themselves for the ODIs.

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