TELFORD VICE, Newlands
HASHIM Amla laughed. He did so not just with his mouth but with his entire being. His time as SA’s test captain ended at Newlands on Thursday, and his relief was writ large.
There wasn’t much laughter to be seen from Amla while SA played 14 tests, won four, lost four and drew six with him in charge. In series terms, that’s played four, won two, lost one, drew one.
Three of the defeats SA suffered under Amla cost them the series in India that ended last month, their first loss in an away rubber since 2009. That two of four pitches were diabolically skewed in favour of the home side does not seem to matter much now.
Still, those don’t look like the kind of numbers that should force something as dramatic as the resignation as a test captain.
But Amla called it quits in the wake of his team not having won any of their last eight tests – a record drought for SA.
For the No. 1 team in the game, that was not good enough and media and public pressure mounted.
“A lot of the criticism Hashim has faced over the past couple of weeks has been very harsh,” SA coach Russell Domingo said. “He’s one of SA’s greatest ever players. Statistically, he is up there as one of the best players …”
Amla interrupted him – “You don’t have to defend me, it’s cool …” – and then his laugh lit up what might have been a dark moment in SA cricket’s recent history.
But Domingo was not done: “I’m just venting here a little bit because I honestly feel there hasn’t been enough respect shown for what he has achieved as a player. The selflessness and sacrifice he has put into the team speaks volumes for him.
“People need to appreciate that type of character. It’s not just about what you see on the field. Sometimes we under-value that.
“The game always goes on. We’ve great players and great players who have stood down, and the team goes on. The game moves on.”
It has already moved on. AB de Villiers, SA’s one-day captain, will take the reins for the last two tests of the England series.
“After this series our next series is only (at home against New Zealand) in August,” Domingo said. “So there’s still a bit of time for that decision to be made.
“AB’s the frontrunner. That’s the bottom line. That’s why he has been asked to do so for these next couple of test matches.”
But De Villiers, who is among the most in demand players in the game, has declined to deny reports that he will manage his workload in future.
If he wants fewer rather than more commitments, his appointment as test captain could lead to an early retirement.
That is a problem for another day. For now, it says much about Amla that he announced he was relinquishing the captaincy a day after he had returned to form and on the same day as his team completed a rousing fightback in the second test against England at Newlands.
SA replied to England’s massive declaration at 629/6 with an almost equally towering 627/7 declared, which was anchored by Amla’s 201 and given a jolt by Temba Bavuma’s 102 not out. When bad light ended the match on Thursday, England had been reduced to 159/6 in their second innings.
For SA to recover so convincingly after conceding the sixth highest total yet scored against them to earn their share of the draw honourably, and that after they had been thrashed by 241 runs in the first test in Durban, is an epitaph that would do many departing captains proud.
Amla said he had made his decision “after careful consideration and considerable thought”. He said it “was not an easy one to make, but I felt I needed to be true to myself having done a personal introspection”.
Having averaged 16.85 in India – his overall average is 51.13 – was his resignation prompted by his or his team’s recent form?
“The decision has been purely based on that I think somebody else could do a better job,” Amla said, adding that “the decision was made at least two weeks ago”.
On the upside for SA, one of the finest players ever to pick up a bat will be able to give his full focus to that role.
“It’s a bit of a relief because now I don’t have to worry about winning the toss,” Amla said.
“Ja, you weren’t very good at that,” Domingo said about Amla having called correctly just three out of 14 times.
With that, they both laughed.