Cricket World Cup 2015

Amla can help restore sanity

2015-02-25 11:56
Hashim Amla (AP)

Cape Town - South Africa could do with their “king of calm” firing for the first time at the World Cup against improving West Indies at Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday (05:30 start).

Hashim Amla is among several senior players who have not yet played to fullest potential at the event, which has gone quite some way to explaining the collective sub-standard showings against Zimbabwe - even in victory - and then in the humbling from India.

Ahead of the tournament, countless newspapers, magazines, websites and television shows around the world not incorrectly suggested in their tournament previews that the Proteas ought to be among front-runners for the silverware simply on the grounds of the handful of genuine superstars in their ranks.

Very much among them is the serene top-order accumulator Amla, who has extremely strong statistical claims to being the most consistent one-day international runs-scorer of all time, for batsmen who have played at least 50 matches, as things stand.

His average of 55.58 after 109 ODIs gives him a fairly comfortable cushion over all other comers, even if three other participants in the current World Cup - team-mate AB de Villiers and the Indian pair of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli - are tightly grouped together around the 51-mark at present.

The only surprise about the first two rounds of matches at CWC 2015 is that Amla hasn’t yet registered a “big ‘un”, such is the expectancy that he will pitch up and demoralise opposition attacks ad nauseam.

The fact that he was dismissed for 11 against the Zimbabweans and then pulled a delivery down long-leg’s throat on 22 against India has inevitably seen some misguided souls lamenting that Amla has lost his touch, and the like.

It is true that Australian 50-overs pitches have tended to be less kind to the bearded right-hander than others; he averages just under 38 there from 11 matches in the format, 10 of them against the Aussies themselves.

But it is not as though he is gripped by any degree of paralysis on them, either: as recently as late November he lashed 102 off 115 balls against the very Australia during a bilateral series at Canberra’s Manuka Oval.

Nevertheless, the quicker a legendarily composed, senior character in the SA ranks like Amla comes to the World Cup fore in a significant way, the better for the Proteas’ overall prospects of playing more like a well-maintained machine again.

Generally, when Amla gets stuck in for a lengthy period, he will be better than most at shutting the padlock on one end determinedly.

 It then has the extended effect, like a Vitamin-B shot, of freeing up more cavalier batsmen like De Villiers and David Miller to create their own, perhaps higher-risk forms of havoc at the other and propel the Proteas to the sort of totals that are either impregnable or see them over the line without much fuss if batting second themselves.

I read with some amusement somewhere this week that the Durban-born player struggles at World Cups: well, he has only participated in one prior event (the Subcontinent, 2011) and if 113 against the Netherlands, 61 against India, 51 against Bangladesh and 42 against England is a low level of contribution, then who am I to, er, argue?

There will, unavoidably, be a greater hint of anxiety in the South African dressing room for the West Indies date than might have been expected before the World Cup began, given that South Africa are some way from their most vintage efficiency levels and the Caribbean side, by contrast, are on a mini-roll after that shock first-up reverse to Ireland.

They have since whipped Pakistan and Zimbabwe to get their tails up quite nicely, the moody Chris Gayle back among the runs in a spectacular way and a feature of their tournament so far being the ability to post 300-plus in all three fixtures.

Granted, a West Indies win on Friday suddenly doesn’t look quite as unlikely as it might have done a few days earlier.

But if there are backers for that scenario, maybe they have short memories, forgetting to take into account that the Proteas roughed up the same foes 4-1 in South Africa during January.

In that context, the name of Amla again comes to light: he was massively influential in the series triumph, caning two big centuries and two half-tons en route to an average - he was only dismissed twice - of 206.

His record more broadly against West Indies in ODIs is almost as sublime: 852 runs from 11 matches at 94.66, making them his personal “bunny” side to a greater degree than any other (Zimbabwe come in next, albeit much lower statistically ... a 69 average).

There are no guarantees in the unforgiving game of cricket, but the chances of Amla hitting his straps on Friday must be considered rosy.

Simultaneously, South Africa’s sense of equilibrium may come flooding back at a rate of knots, too.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  hashim amla  |  cricket

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