Cape Town – It would be both fitting and
predictable if Hashim Amla is first on Sunday to break a “conversion-shy” trend
in the final Test between South Africa and West Indies at Newlands here.
The Proteas captain and accumulator par
excellence stands unbeaten on a largely trouble-free 55 in his team’s promising
first innings, leaving them only 102 runs adrift of the tourists’ tally with
seven wickets in hand after an engrossing day two played out before another
pleasingly large crowd.
You might say that alarm bells are ringing
for him, given that so far as many as eight batsmen (five away team, three
home, including Amla himself) have done the hard yards by getting into the
forties at least ... but then universally failing to cash in and advance to
So far Faf du Plessis has come closest to
burying the booming mini-hoodoo, but then on a confidently-compiled 68 even he
was suckered down the track by a cleverly wide, looping delivery from big workhorse
Sulieman Benn and emphatically stumped.
Yet given his ominously - from a Caribbean
point of view - not out status at slightly early stumps on Saturday, and the
ease with which he has gone past 50, you would not necessarily want to stake
your house on Amla similarly failing to follow through with a century.
When he is going about his trade so
diligently and calmly at the crease, it is unlikely that the seasoned
right-hander is thinking too obsessively, if at all, about statistical
landmarks -- particularly now that he has the national team’s tiller.
But he is only 39 runs away from becoming
the third player at his adopted home venue to reach at least 1 000 runs there
in Tests, and if gets to that 94 on the board he will obviously also be just
one big hit away from his own third ton in the premier format at the ground.
Newlands, remember, is the venue where he
earned his maiden Test century in his fourth appearance for South Africa: 149
against New Zealand in that almost surreal, high-scoring game in the rare
Capetonian time-slot of misty late April in 2006.
Once he inevitably gets to the four-figure
runs mark at the ground, whether it is in this Test or a bit further down the
line, he will join two of its favourite sons in doing so - the particularly
imperious Jacques Kallis (2 181 runs at a dizzying 72.70) and his predecessor
as skipper Graeme Smith (1 363 at 48.67).
Taking such milestone thoughts to one side,
the Proteas and their supporters will primarily be wishing that the unbroken
fourth-wicket partnership of 70 between Amla and his fellow blue-chip
strokeplayer AB de Villiers is significantly advanced on Sunday, in the quest
to drag this match progressively beyond any West Indian hopes of a
In the superstar pair’s favour is that they
will have the luxury of a further 11.3 overs of an old ball first-up to get
bedded down once more, before the West Indians can reach for a gleaming cherry
and hope to make inroads via that device.
Secretly, I almost hope the dangerous Amla-De
Villiers firm doesn’t blossom too prodigiously on the middle day, as
termination of the stand with some SA donkeywork still to do on a
patience-testing, slowly wearing track would offer another revealing
examination of the callow talents of Stiaan van Zyl and Temba Bavuma.
Whoever it is who drives the Proteas
onward, the world’s No 1-ranked side still look quite ripe for achieving the
potentially pivotal, 400-plus total Sport24 suggested they would even after
first-day hostilities had ended.
is difficult to escape a suspicion from both soundbites and body language clues
that some of the more experienced Proteas personnel, especially, had hoped for
a track that might be more spicy for their much-vaunted seam battery, instead
of one that seems suited to pushing out the contest for as close to the full
five days as possible to maximise turnstile revenue potential.
Bowlers have had to bend their backs for
success on curator Evan Flint’s surface thus far and neutrals would probably be
correct, actually, if they submitted it is a good one for Test cricket; some
misbehaviour on days four and five is likely and that would also be no bad, or outrageously
Besides, if South Africa win anyway, which
remains this writer’s own heavy fancy ahead of the Test’s “moving day” on
Sunday, such disgruntled thoughts will evaporate like bubbles striking a passing
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing