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Was Prince’s decision the right one?
17 Mar 2009

Johan Botha was not considered a regular member of the Proteas team when he was offered the captaincy as a result of Graeme Smith being injured during South Africa’s ODI series against Australia. Botha was still learning the ropes of international cricket and the art of off-spin bowling when the opportunity to captain came his way.

Botha had been through some rough times when his bowling action was questioned. A panel in Western Australia subsequently cleared him. The selectors had more senior and far more experienced players than Botha to choose from. One can only imagine what went through his mind when he was offered the captaincy. He could have thought the selectors were setting him up for failure or that no one else was prepared to do the job. With ample reasons to decline the captaincy, he instead grabbed the opportunity and considered it a huge privilege and an honour to lead his country, a brave and selfless decision in my opinion.

The respect he earned from his team-mates and the public confirmed that he had made not only a courageous decision but also the right one and Botha grew as a person and a cricketer in his new role as captain, which was reflected in South Africa’s performance.

Yet again, Smith’s injury woes have created a captaincy void in the Proteas squad.

The incumbent vice captain, Ashwell Prince, who was out of the team because of his own injury and then because of JP Duminy’s stellar performance in Australia, has been selected back into the side as an opening batsman and as captain.

Prince’s record for South Africa is a good one, and he has been vice captain for quite some time, a very different situation to the one Botha found himself in. It is obvious that the selectors would look to their vice captain to take over the captaincy reins while Smith recovers from his broken finger. Prince’s decision then to decline the captaincy in order to concentrate on his own batting is a curious one, but to many who know him it comes as no surprise that he is putting his own agenda before those of his team and country.

I leant a hard lesson as an inexperienced 18-year old cricketer. I was asked to open the batting in a first-class game when our opening batsman was injured. Thinking only of myself and my batting average, I declined the opportunity. Instead I was forced to watch a lower order batsman put up his hand and fend off the opening bowlers with little technique but with far more guts than I had shown.

It was one of the worst days of my cricketing career, but it ensured that I would never again put my own agenda before that of my team.

It remains to be seen whether Prince will also be given the luxury of deciding where he is most comfortable in the batting order. With Neil McKenzie and Smith out of the equation, South Africa is desperate for an experienced opening batsman to partner debutant Imraan Khan and Prince would be the ideal candidate. Day one at Newlands will reveal whether the selectors will pander to his preference of being tucked cosily away in the middle order or not.

Prince’s actions send a peculiar message to his team and youngsters such as Khan, who will be relishing his chance to play for his country. Will they learn from Prince — that captaining your team is the ultimate privilege and that playing for your country is more important than your average — I have my doubts?

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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