Since South Africa’s readmission to international cricket, 10 of the 12 men to captain the national team in Test cricket have been top-order batsmen.
The only bowler afforded the job since 1991 was Shaun Pollock, whose time as skipper was overshadowed by the actions of his predecessor and politics. Despite that, as Test captain, Pollock did a decent job leading the side to seven series wins from 10. In that time, the Proteas won 14 out of 26 Tests. Three of their five defeats came in Australia and could be attributed to top-order failures.
Pollock’s captaincy is hardly a cautionary tale to ward off any chance of a bowler being handed the Proteas captaincy, but the prevailing wisdom, not just in South Africa but in the cricketing world as a whole, is that fast bowlers don’t make great captains.
It doesn’t help that respected figures such as Donald Bradman stood opposed to giving a bowler the reins, arguing they were just too invested in the heat of the battle to be objective in the field where captains earn their keep.
South Africa has had great captains who were bowlers on the domestic scene – including the likes of Mike Procter, a keen student of the game who skippered Natal and became an international match referee.
As Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher ponder who should be the next Test captain, they may want to consider what the team’s bowlers might bring to the role.
Kagiso Rabada certainly meets the criteria of already being guaranteed a place in the XI when he is fit. Still, questions about his temperament will remain as long as he continues to test the boundaries with his wicket celebrations.
The retirements of Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel leave the Proteas with few quick-bowling candidates for the captaincy.
Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Dwaine Pretorius would all be left-field choices, but the Proteas management may want to consider the benefit of appointing Keshav Maharaj to the role.
Maharaj has skippered the Dolphins, albeit in the One-Day Cup, but appointing him captain would force the Proteas to field a spinner in every match.
With Quinton de Kock decisively ruled out it, seems likely that a choice will be made between the likes of Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma, with Rassie van der Dussen an outside chance. But the powers that be should give some time to considering the merits of giving the job to Maharaj or Rabada, who have established themselves as key members of the team.
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