Hash to restore some sanity?

2015-01-03 22:28
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)
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 three figures.

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 series-levelling upset.

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.

 It 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 unorthodox, thing.

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 porcupine ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    west indies  |  proteas  |  cape town  |  cricket

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