Cape Town – Even if they won’t necessarily go away, expect
at least a pronounced tactical hiatus from the “Hashim must go” lobby.
Leadership of a Test cricket team requires many qualities
and yes, the Proteas’ helmsman Hashim Amla may never be the most vocal,
animated and consistently gee-upping sort of character in the field.
He has also come under scrutiny, to put it fairly politely,
over his usage of bowlers: sometimes this has seemed justified, though has
anyone stopped to properly consider that he presides these days over a leaner, often
injury-bedevilled four-man specialist attack with no Jacques Kallis available
for precious all-rounder oomph?
But meaningful personal deeds for the cause count for plenty
in inspirational value in the art of captaincy, too ... and before the second
Test against England at Newlands here the soft-spoken 32-year-old candidly
admitted that he wished to lead from the front to a far greater extent in the
contest, with his misfiring charges already 1-0 down in the four-match series
and his own form rarely ropey.
Amla emphatically matched words with actions on another
energy-sapping middle day of the glamour New Year Test, registering his first
century in 14 knocks in the format since amassing 208 against West Indies at
Centurion in mid-December 2014.
Even more crucially, the durable right-hander didn’t switch
off his engine and feel his job was complete after getting to three figures; he
was all too aware of the need to press on doggedly considering the Ben
Stokes-inspired weight of England’s rather hurricane-like first innings.
He negotiated the entire day’s play for 157 not out, after
resuming on 64, and can now add this city to six others – Johannesburg,
Chennai, Nagpur, London (The Oval), Perth and Centurion -- in which he has gone
beyond the 150-mark in Tests.
Amla did present a couple of chances to an errant England
fielding division, as their bowlers largely stuck manfully to an unenviable
task, but there must now be a fair chance that he moves on to eclipse the
highest score by a compatriot at Newlands –Herschelle Gibbs’s 228 against
Pakistan in 2003.
If ever a team needed lifting – not just because of galling events
on days one and two, but on the grounds of several lean months ahead of the
match – it was the Proteas.
Their captain was fittingly the primary provider, although
close lieutenant AB de Villiers played his part during a partnership of 183:
this searing stroke-player was some way off his A-game but nevertheless batted
two minutes short of five hours for his 88, and eating up time is what the
hosts continue to need in their rearguard scrap.
For the first time in the series (make that their tour as a
whole so far) England found themselves footsore and largely fruitless in the
field on Monday; it was almost as if South Africa had awoken from a coma.
They simultaneously seemed to signal that they aren’t ready
to give up their hold on the bilateral Basil D’Oliveira Trophy quite yet, and
would have been heartened to see English bowlers getting a bit tetchy and
frustrated as the shadows lengthened and another scorcher also lay in prospect
for Cape Town on day four.
The Proteas certainly aren’t out of the woods: they still
trailed at stumps by 276 runs, with seven wickets in hand, and would be happy
to drive on comfortably beyond the follow-on avoidance requirement of 430 as
first mini-target on Tuesday – not that the tiring tourists are likely to
enforce it if that option unexpectedly exists.
But Amla’s staggering powers of concentration and discipline
have already gone a long way to making a draw easily the favourite result from
Frankly, come day five and there is a good chance this pitch
will still look a more attractive one to bat on in many ways than certain
strips the Proteas encountered on day one of their much-debated prior tour of
The Proteas have arrived at the races at last, I fancy, with
further good news for them being a near-effortless unbeaten half-century from
Faf du Plessis as he shapes up as just another South African batsman seeking to
atone spiritedly for recent statistical leanness.
Their previously under-fire skipper has masterminded the
halt, at least for the time being, to a worrying rot at a time that hugely
examined his mettle, and it must not be undervalued.
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