SA in West Indies
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Hashim: Unstoppable force
Cape Town – Hashim Amla just keeps setting the bar higher and higher for himself and then vaulting it, as it were, with astonishing ease.
The 27-year-old Proteas top-order batsman is quite simply in the form of his life. Tests, one-day internationals, the County Championship … it seems he can do no wrong in any of cricket’s various arenas at present.
On Monday the unassuming KwaZulu-Natalian gobbled a second consecutive player-of-the-match award as South Africa won the second ODI against West Indies at North Sound to go 2-0 up in the five-match series.
His typically meticulous, level-headed and well-crafted innings of 92 helped lay the foundations for the Proteas’ charge to 300, which proved enough despite a rare display of late fireworks by Darren Sammy, who registered the fastest ODI half-century by a West Indian.
It was a follow-up to his 102 at the same venue – one which certainly requires batsmen to have their wits about them – on Saturday, when AB de Villiers also went to three figures.
Amla has certainly provided the sort of positive, freshening presence South Africa needed after the disappointment of the ICC World Twenty20 -- and the last few months have been nothing short of sensational for him personally.
The holder now of 26 ODI caps, he is rapidly confirming himself as a frontline selection for the World Cup on the Subcontinent next year, utterly allaying earlier fears that he and Jacques Kallis, South Africa’s Test batting barnacles at No 3 and 4 respectively, are not compatible in the same limited-overs combo.
In the 50-overs arena, you cannot quibble at all with his recent form or attacking intent: five half-centuries and a century in his last nine ODIs, at an average of 65.
His overall average in ODIs is currently 52.86 and his strike rate (85.83) stands up well to more established Proteas players in that environment: Graeme Smith’s is lower at 83.05 while Amla is not even far off the often swashbuckling AB de Villiers (89.49).
These are his last four ODI innings for South Africa, from the most recent, and with strike rates in brackets: 92 (96.84) and 102 (93.57) versus West Indies at North Sound, 87 (84.46) versus India at Ahmedabad and 34 (154.54) against the same foes at Gwalior.
An interesting aspect of Amla’s ODI career is that he has only ever hit five sixes, and four of them came when he pounded minnows Bangladesh for his personal best score of 140 at Benoni in November 2008.
Clearly he is doing more than enough “on the deck” to keep the scoreboard ticking nicely, where his wristy skills are perennially handy in upsetting field placings, while he is resorting far more often and more confidently to the pull and hook (once virtually alien to his game-plan) to increase his repertoire further these days.
In Test cricket, of course, Amla has had a truly juggernaut spell, boasting scores of 114 and 123 not out (Kolkata) and 253 not out (Nagpur) against India, 75 against England (Johannesburg) and 14 and 95 against those opponents in Cape Town – for an average of 168 in that time.
Oh yes, and he warmed up for his West Indies trip with 377 runs at 75.4 for Nottinghamshire in four productive appearances in the County Championship.
Amla seems increasingly to confirm some experts’ staunch belief that you cannot afford to overlook a quality cricketer, regardless of the format of the game … so even a return to the T20 international landscape cannot be ruled out down the line for the only twice-capped player there.
You wouldn’t bet against Amla continuing to make hay while the legendary Caribbean sun shines, would you?