England in SA

Hamza seeks balance in bid to make No 3 slot his own

2020-01-15 09:50
Zubayr Hamza (Gallo)
Zubayr Hamza (Gallo)

Cape Town - Listening to Proteas batting coach Jacques Kallis during the second Test against England at Newlands, there were strong suggestions that an international debut was not too far away for Keegan Petersen.

The highly-rated 26-year-old was called up to the squad following an injury to Aiden Markram after the first Test at Centurion, but that slot naturally went to specialist opener Pieter Malan for Cape Town. 

Petersen was the only player in the squad not sent back to his franchise that week, instead spending time with Kallis in the Newlands nets as the Proteas fell to a series-levelling 189-run loss late on day five. 

"He's keen to spend time in the middle and no doubt he is going to get a lot of runs going forward," Kallis said during that Test. 

If Petersen does get his chance, it is likely to come at No 3 where another promising youngster in the form of 24-year-old Zubayr Hamza is trying to find his feet in Proteas whites. 

Hamza has just four Tests to his name since debuting against Pakistan last January and he has displayed strong signs of possessing the ingredients to be a serious player at this level. 

His knock of 62 in the first-innings of a losing cause against India in Ranchi in September was considered a breakthrough moment. The Proteas were skittled for 162 that day, but Hamza showed courage in abundance against the Indian spin machine, carving out 10 boundaries and hitting a six in a positive 79-ball stay at the crease. 

Then, on Boxing Day, Hamza looked to be in sublime touch for 39, with his cover driving and off-side play in general drawing 'oohs' and 'aahs' from the SuperSport Park crowd. 

It was another reminder of Hamza's undeniable talent, but also a reminder that constant concentration is paramount at this level. 

Scores of 4, 5 and 18 have followed in the series and now Hamza goes into the third Test in Port Elizabeth in need of a telling contribution. 

He is, of course, currently batting in the No 3 position that was occupied by the mighty Hashim Amla in 107 of his 124 Test matches at an average of just under 50

Those are big shoes to fill, but the Proteas are looking for somebody to make the position their own in this new-look, largely inexperienced top order. 

"Yes, it's a tough position to bat in, but I've batted domestically in that position for the past couple of seasons and as much as I'm trying to make it my own, I'm also learning and adapting as soon as I can," Hamza told media in PE on Tuesday. 

"It's the highest level, so there is always going to be a difference between where you're coming from and where you are at the moment."

Learning on the job is far from ideal, but Hamza has received backing from coach Mark Boucher to not get discouraged when he fails. For Hamza, Test cricket is quickly becoming about key decision making, and that is where he wants to improve sooner rather than later. 

"I think the issue is trying to find the balance and that is when the tough part comes in," he said.

"It's about batting time, but also you can take the game away from the opposition batting at No 3. If I can find that balance, then I think I'll do well.

"It's just about backing your decision in the middle. If a ball comes at you, you can be stuck between defence and blocking out a day's play, but usually that ball you'd end up hitting for four or six.

"It's about clinical and backing your decision at that specific moment ... that was kind of our downfall in the last Test."

Petersen, meanwhile, is back with the Knights this week and he scored 45 in his side's first-innings against the Warriors on Tuesday. 

For now, the opportunity to be South Africa's Test No 3 for years to come lies with Hamza. 

Play on Thursday starts at 10:00.


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