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
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
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
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
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.
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing