South Africa will start life with Hashim Amla as their new captain in their first Test against Sri Lanka.
Amla took over from long-standing skipper Graeme Smith in March, but has not yet had the chance to fulfil his new role while the Proteas have been engaged in ODI cricket.
If he can steer his team to victory in both Tests of the two-match series, they will replace Australia at the top of the world rankings which would be a truly remarkable feat, particularly after it was feared no one would be able to top Smith’s reign following the left-handed opener quit Test match cricket after leading South Africa in a record-breaking 109 Tests.
Leading from the front
However, Amla has been leading from the front in his side’s ODIs, scoring two consecutive centuries in the series against Sri Lanka, which South Africa won 2-1, his thirteenth and fourteenth respectively in the one-day game.
Though captained by AB de Villiers in the shorter format, Amla has used the tour of Sri Lanka to highlight his authority.
Amla has admittedly not been given an easy task by Cricket South Africa. If England are said to be going through a transitional period – a convenient excuse for their losing streak – then South Africa are facing an equal challenge, only accepting it with more grace.
Not only have they dealt with Smith’s departure with ease, chiefly because Amla and De Villiers have seamlessly filled the void, but head coach Russell Domingo has also had to contend with the losses of wicket-keeper Mark Boucher and all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
Sri Lanka, then, provide the perfect opposition in Amla’s mission to continue his side’s success. The Proteas will certainly be the favourites, after Sri Lanka only narrowly managed to beat a struggling England outfit.
Nonetheless, South Africa’s triumph in the recent ODIs was Sri Lanka’s first series defeat of 2014, and they remain the world’s best 50-overs side.
The series also represents one last chance to play against Mahela Jayawardene, who will retire from Tests next month after his side’s series against Pakistan.
Amla and co will be hoping to steal the limelight away from the batting legend, however, and that is perfectly possible if the Proteas’ new captain continues his recent form.
His leadership also marks an important milestone for South Africa in that he is their first permanent non-white captain.
At 31, Amla does not have the time to break Smith’s records. In what little time he does have, though, he can still achieve his predecessor’s level of greatness.