Avoiding the pedestal trap

How peculiar to think of Hansie Cronje when it became obvious that Hashim Amla would be appointed as captain of the test team. On the face of it, they couldn’t be more different. The only thing which could possibly link them is a talent for cricket. And now captaincy.

By the time it became clear that Hansie wasn’t quite the clean-cut, clean living man he appeared to be at face value, it was already too late to say anything – certainly for those who traveled with the national team and made their living reporting on or administering the game.

The process of building the pedestal from which Cronje ruled the squad began very early in his life. He was the heir apparent to the national captaincy at the time Kepler was first appointed captain. Young, handsome, talented, respected and a natural leader of men – he was above and beyond question, let alone reproach. He was smart, too – not just in the academic sense, but in his understanding of the attitudes around him.

The level of Cronje’s support was best illustrated when United Cricket Board chief executive, Dr Ali Bacher, launched a stinging, swingeing attack on the Indian police when allegations of match-fixing were first aired. Even Bacher, as wise, and experienced as he was, had become incapable of even imagining that his captain could be fallible.

Like the vast majority of my colleagues and Cronje’s employers, I’d helped build the pedestal on which the nation viewed the Proteas captain. After his demise, I vowed to try as hard as I possibly could not to make the same mistake in the future.

When Graeme Smith’s team was accused of being run by a ‘clique’ of his close mates, I raised the issue publicly and aired the grievances of the disillusioned – and he responded positively, as he virtually always did, to criticism.

I always assumed that any future immunity from criticism would be built from the same material that Cronje’s had been. Wealth, success, ego, power…that sort of thing. I never imagined that a pedestal could possibly be built from the opposite ingredients. Yet that is the danger with Amla.

His personality and demeanour have been on public display for a decade now. Calmness and serenity are what we see. We assume that his faith and his personality are one and the same, both beyond doubt. We assume that he is incapable of error or misjudgement and, as with Cronje, there may be a fear that questioning the captain will result in nothing more than a nasty backlash in the direction from whence the questions came.

For Hashim’s sake, above that of the team, the game and everything else, I hope that everybody will see him for who he is and not what we perceive him to be. He is the first to admit that he is not perfect and that, like everyone else, he has moods, perceptions and good and bad days. He is a brilliant batsman and now the national captain. He also happens to be a devout Muslim. It is perfectly acceptable to regard them as mutually exclusive when analysing his performances. It may even be helpful to him, and the team, to do so.

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